This paper considers the transmission of confidential data over wireless channels. Based on an information - theoretic formulation of the problem, in which two legitimates partners communicate over a quasi-static fading channel and an eavesdropper observes their transmissions through a second independent quasi-static fading channel, the important role of fading is characterized in terms of average secure communication rates and outage probability. Based on the insights from this analysis, a practical secure communication protocol is developed, which uses a four-step procedure to ensure wireless information - theoretic security : (i) common randomness via opportunistic transmission, (ii) message reconciliation, (iii) common key generation via privacy amplification, and (iv) message protection with a secret key. A reconciliation procedure based on multilevel coding and optimized low-density parity-check (LDPC) codes is introduced, which allows to achieve communication rates close to the fundamental security limits in several relevant instances. Finally, a set of metrics for assessing average secure key generation rates is established, and it is shown that the protocol is effective in secure key renewal-even in the presence of imperfect channel state information .