Enhanced security, quality on tap for Wi-Fi in 2004

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Two key improvements for the security and performance quality of Wi-Fi devices are scheduled to reach wireless network users this year as the adoption of wireless technology continues to grow within businesses and home users.

The Wi-Fi Alliance will certify products for the new 802.11i and 802.11e standards by September, said Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. The 802.11i standard is the complete version of the preliminary security standard WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) introduced last year, while 802.11e is a new standard that will improve the quality of wireless networks that transmit voice and video.

Security has been one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of wireless networking. Last year, WPA replaced the flawed WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) protocol to shore up wireless security before the full 802.11i standard could be ratified. WPA uses a dynamic encryption key as opposed to the static key used by WEP, and it also improves the user authentication process.

The 802.11i standard adds AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) technology, a stronger level of security than used in WPA. Enterprises and governments, which need the highest level of security available, may have to replace some of their networking equipment in order to support the AES standard.

Newer networking equipment released within the last three months will probably have enough computational power to handle the increased performance requirements of AES security, Hanzlik said. Network managers with older wireless devices should check with their vendor to see if that equipment will support a software download of the full 802.11i standard, he said.

Companies with older networking equipment must decide whether the data traveling over their wireless networks is critical enough to warrant a significant upgrade, said Aaron Vance, senior analyst with Synergy Research Inc. in Scottsdale, Arizona. In many cases, third-party products are available that can secure a wireless network when combined with the WPA standard, he said.

The Boston Public Library (BPL) isn't worried about upgrading to the 802.11i standard just yet because it uses wireless gateways from Bluesocket Inc. to manage security policies on its wireless network, said Carolyn Coulter, systems officer with the BPL. The BPL provides the wireless network for the public to use at its main branch in Copley Square, but a library card is required to gain access to the network.

Other users, such as financial services firms, must do whatever possible to improve network security, Vance said.

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