Carrier WiFi

Too Dumb for WiFi?

A lot of devices being used to connect to wireless LAN networks are too "dumb" to use security upgrades being developed for the 802.11 specification, says David Bullis, president and CEO of Wavelink Corp., a firm that develops wireless network management software for industrial and retail users.

Bullis says that new security techniques for 802.11 need to address the broad range of devices that use the technology. These can range from laptops to extremely application-specific devices like bar-code scanners, which aren't really able to handle the kinds of security and authentication capabilities offered today at the higher-end of the wireless management market, let alone future revs of the WLAN spec.

A lot of customers use very simple wireless devices for data entry and stock control tasks. These devices, Bullis says, have limited memory and use simple operating systems and may not be able to support sophisticated security systems or additional software designed to authenticate users or encrypt data.

Currently, the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) 802.11 security specification shares a single encryption key across multiple access points, and has been shown to be vulnerable to over-the-air hacks.

New upgrades to the WLAN security specification will beef up the protection inherent in the 802.11 specification [ed. note: presuming users actually switch on]. But such upgrades could be some ways away, and they may not be applicable to the simpler devices that make up the broader church of WiFi.

"Many of our customers use simple, DOS-based mobile devices," says Bullis. "It's unlikely they're even going to be able to deploy a Radius or a Kerboros [security software]."

Naturally, Wavelink says it has the answer with forthcoming wireless software. However, the big teases aren't going to tell us about it for at least a month.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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