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What Is the WPS Button on My Router?

MUO 3/21/2023 Gavin Phillips
© Provided by MUO

If you've prodded around your router, you've probably found a strange button labeled "WPS" on it somewhere. But what is this mysterious button, and what would happen if you pressed it?

Let's break down what "WPS" stands for, why it has a button, and how it works.

What Is WPS?

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WPS stands for "Wi-Fi Protected Setup," It gives you an easier way to connect devices to your router.

If you've connected a device to a router before, you've likely experienced the horrors of default router passwords. These are usually printed somewhere in the back and contain a long string of letters, numbers, and symbols that you need to enter to use the router.

The default password is convoluted to keep hackers out of the router. If the password was set to something easy, like "admin," a hacker can guess it and get access to your router. Back before randomly generated default passwords were a thing, changing them was a top tip to secure your network.

Because these complex default router passwords are strong from the get-go, it's not uncommon for someone to never change them. Unfortunately, this does mean that someone can access your Wi-Fi if they read the password on the back.

However, if someone breaks into your home to read your router's password, you've got bigger issues than someone watching Netflix on your data plan.

So, if it's relatively safe to assume that anyone within touching range of your router isn't a bad guy, why not make a button that does the same thing? That's what the WPS button is for.

What Does the WPS Button on a Router Do?

The WPS button on your router assumes that if someone is in touching range of the router, they're allowed to connect a device to it. So, instead of typing in that lengthy password, you can hit the WPS button and connect a device that way.

When you press the WPS button, the router begins looking for compatible devices. If it finds any devices looking for a WPS-enabled router to connect to, the two will automatically pair up. If nothing connects to the router in approximately two minutes, the router stops looking.

Note that not all devices can connect using WPS. Devices designed before WPS caught on won't work with it, and some newer gadgets have dropped WPS support altogether. You usually can't tell if a device works with WPS or not, but if it is, you'll see a "connect via WPS" option when connecting it to a new router.

Where Is the WPS Button on My Router?

The WPS button can look a little different depending on the router model. For some models, it's really easy to spot; just look for the button labeled "WPS." It should be somewhere around the back of the unit.

Some models will instead use the WPS symbol, which looks like two arrows pointing to each other in an oval shape. It kind of looks like the universal recycling symbol if it were missing an arrow and is more circular than triangular.

Others will use the term "Wi-Fi Protected Setup" next to the button, which is just the term "WPS" written out in full. All of the above should still work as a regular WPS button, so don't worry if yours is labeled differently than normal.

How to Connect to a Wi-Fi Network With WPS

Unfortunately, not every Wi-Fi device will work with WPS. Old systems designed before WPS won't understand what it is, and some modern-day devices don't bother with WPS.

You'll know if a device is compatible with WPS if it allows you to use it when you set it up. After you select the router you want the device to connect to, it'll ask you to either give it a password or press the WPS button on your router.

If the latter option appears during setup, keep the page open and press the WPS button on your router. Your route will then begin looking around for devices that want to connect to it. Hopefully, it will find yours and bring it onto the network without requiring a password.

It's worth noting that changing your router password may boot off all the devices connected to it via WPS. If you try to reconnect, your device will claim that its credentials are now incorrect.

To solve this, you can set your password back to what it was, and everything should reconnect again. If you don't want to do that (because you set your password to something stronger, for instance), you can tell your device to forget the router, then reconnect using the WPS button.

It's also handy to keep this tip in mind if you suspect someone connected to your router with WPS without your knowledge. Just change the password, and you'll lock out everyone who got on without your permission.

Is WPS Safe to Use?

The safety of WPS depends wholly on where your router is. Can you imagine an intruder gaining access to your router and using your router's WPS button to get onto your network? If so, you might want to prod around in your router's settings and disable the WPS button.

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This goes double if you don't believe you'll connect any new devices to your Wi-Fi anytime soon. WPS is only useful for getting new devices online. Once you're done, there's no reason to keep the button active.

But what about when guests come over? If you want visitors to quickly and easily connect to your Wi-Fi, you can set up a separate guest network for them. That way, they can quickly connect to the internet while all your private devices are safe on your personal network.

Connection at the Press of a Button

WPS is a convenient way to connect your devices to your router, but it can pose a security risk. It's a good idea to turn off WPS functionality once all your devices are connected and allow guests to connect via a guest network so your private devices stay safe.

If you've decided to disable WPS, why not go one step further and hide your entire Wi-Fi network too? It's a lot harder for a hacker to get into what they can't see, after all.

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