First Wi-Fi products get security certificate


The Wi-Fi Alliance got its next certification program off to a flying start, issuing WPA2 badges to a bunch of products that comply with the 802.11i security specification, on day one of the program. The Alliance is readying other programs for quality of service and the 802.11n fast Wi-Fi standard due next year.

The WPA2 certified products include generic designs from Atheros Communications Inc. and Broadcom Corp., so customers can expect to buy products with the badges on by the end of the month, and for many others WPA2 will only mean a software upgrade, said Gordon Lindsay, Broadcom's European wireless product manager.

WPA2 is the follow up to the Alliance's interim security plan, WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), which was brought out in March 2003, because the then-current WEP security was not adequate and the replacement, 802.11i, too far off. Now, with the 802.11i standard ratified by the IEEE, the Alliance has launched a branding program under the WPA2 banner.

The biggest addition in WPA2/802.11i is AES, a heavy duty encryption standard specified by the US government, which 2003 WLAN equipment did not have the processing power to handle. Despite fears that users may have to scrap existing Wi-Fi hardware, many will be pleasantly surprised to find that a software upgrade will suffice, said Lindsay. "We have the hardware for AES in all our existing chips," he said. "It's literally a software upgrade."

WPA2 devices will be backward compatible with WPA systems, but there will be a couple of steps on the upgrade path. The full WPA2 security won't be available unless both ends of the link can run 802.11i, so users with WPA2 networks may need to upgrade clients before the full security benefits accrue. Like WPA before it, WPA2 will be essential for the overall Wi-Fi Alliance certification, so eventually any Wi-Fi certified product will by definition support 802.11i.

"Enterprise security needs are not a stationary target, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is committed to certification programs that meet evolving security requirements," said Wi-Fi Alliance managing director, Frank Hanzlik (read our interview with him).

Products with WPA2 certification include:

-- Atheros' AR5000 series single and dual-band access points, and its a/b/g wireless adapters

-- Broadcom's AirForce dual-band access point and adapter

-- Cisco Systems Inc.'s Aironet 1200 802.11a/g access point

-- Instant802 Networks Inc.'s Gateway 7001 Access Point

-- Intel Corp.'s Intel Pro/Wireless 2915 Network Connection, and a Realtek NIC.

"There may be some older products out there that don't have AES in hardware," said Lindsay, "but the fact that it is now agreed, and essential for Wi-Fi certification, means new products will be up to that standard straight away."

An imminent Wi-Fi Alliance branding program for the 802.11e quality of service standard will have a big impact on voice over Wi-Fi said Lindsay. "A lot of people are waiting for WME [part of the 802.11e standard], because quality will improve in leaps and bounds," he said.

And beyond that, the Wi-Fi Alliance will move in quickly on the 802.11n fast Wi-Fi standard, even though the IEEE has only just started defining it. "There was quite a delay between 802.11g coming out, and the launch of the Alliance branding scheme All being able to test and certify," said Lindsay. "This time the Alliance wants to be able to go on day one."

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