Wi-Fi Protected Access is here

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced it has completed the first round of the WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) interoperability tests as part of its steps towards replacing the beleaguered WLAN security standard, known as WEP (wired equivalent privacy).

The Alliance blames security fears for the slow takeup of wireless products. It says the current WEP standard is too complex to implement so many consumers chose simply to ignore it, leaving their systems open to all kinds of possible threats.

The WPA standard has been designed to provide improved data encryption and user authentication, which is almost glossed over by WEP. WPA will require only a software upgrade and will be forward-compatible with the upcoming 802.11i wireless standard.

WPA is likely to be installed on all products as standard by August this year. It will not be switched on when the product is purchased, as high security makes the setup process harder. Instead, users will be given the option to install it -- through a series of mandatory setup screens -- when setting up their systems.

"This is the best interoperable solution for today's enterprise and home users. Businesses will find WPA both scalable and manageable; consumers will find it easier to install while offering an unprecedented level of security for the home network," said Dennis Eaton, chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

This is the Alliance's third certification: the first was based on 802.11a, the second on 802.11b. WPA will act a temporary solution until the implementation of the future Wi-Fi standard 802.11i. To date, over 650 products from 120 companies have received Wi-Fi certification.

The Alliance also announced the launch of its Zone finder, a search tool and database designed to help travelers find Wi-Fi zones or 'hotspots'. The site shows locations of around 2,000 of the 12,000 hotspots worldwide, a figure the Alliance hopes will increase.

"Finding Wi-Fi public access services around the world has been difficult without an official list of locations," said Eaton. "Many people have asked us to develop such a list to make it easier to stay connected in their home town or when travelling. Zone Finder allows user to download a list of zones for times when they arrive at their destination without access to the Internet."

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Wendy Brewer

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