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Optical/IP

802.11 Security Issues Sorted?

HANNOVER, Germany -– CeBIT 2003 -- 802.11 industry organization Wi-Fi Alliance says truly secure, standard wireless LAN products will be available within the next few months based on a preliminary solution called WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access).

The alliance, which has more than 200 industry members, was formed in 1999 to certify standard 802.11 products. Now, nearly 700 products have the stamp of approval. Its next steps are to help introduce greater security (with WPA), start certifying 802.11g (54-Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) products once the .g standard is approved by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE), and promote the hell out of hotspot availability to help boost use, traffic, and product uptake.

WPA addresses the security concerns that still dog the 802.11 sector. "The IEEE's Task Group i, which is working on a complete security standard [802.11i], will probably complete its work late this year or early next year, but something is needed now to make products secure," says Andrea Vocale, business development manager for wireless networking at alliance member Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

Basically, WPA is a security solution comprising the elements already fixed and agreed upon by the IEEE security task group. These include TKIP (temporal key integrity protocol) and Counter Mode with CBC-MAC Protocol (CCMP) for over-the-air encryption, and 802.11x, and access control standard for user authentication and encryption key distribution. It is supposed to be more secure than the current WEP (wired equivalent privacy) security standard that has been proved insecure.

"WPA is a snapshot of 802.11i, and once the task group has completed its standard work, then that end result will be WPA v2," says Vocale. "The industry is aligning behind WPA, which is encouraging, as it has not been that unified up to now."

Wi-Fi Alliance marketing director Brian Grimm says products incorporating WPA are being tested and should be certified and available in April or May. And just yesterday, Intersil Corp. (Nasdaq: ISIL) announced that it is already making WPA-enabled silicon available to 802.11 vendors (see Intersil Secures WLAN With WPA).

Grimm adds that certification of 802.11g products will begin as soon as the standard is ratified, "which should be at either the June or August meeting" of the IEEE standards authority.

And what does the Alliance think about the millions of 802.11g pre-standard products already shipped? (For example, see Agere, Broadcom Blitz 802.11g .) "Pre-standard products may not guarantee a good user experience," Vocale admits, glumly.

As for the promotion of hotspots, the Wi-Fi Alliance has a logo for public access points that it hopes will become a globally recognized symbol. Any hotspot that meets a set of minimum requirements, set out by the Alliance, can sport a "WiFi Zone" logo. "We have about 80 hotspot providers from more than 20 countries already signed up for this, and anyone can download from our website a spreadsheet of the hotspot locations," says Grimm. Those already in the Zone program account for between 1,600 and 1,700 hotspots around the world, while Grimm believes there are about 10,000 open public access points that anyone can use globally at present.

WiFi Zone
Wi-Fi Alliance's spiffy new logo
— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung

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