Intel outlines Wireless USB security, use

Intel is backing the 128-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption protocol for securing wireless USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections, which it hopes will replace USB cables for connections over very short distances, a company engineer said last week.

First-time connection between the host and other devices is a critical issue, said Brad Hosler, wireless USB architect at Intel's communications technology labs, who outlined its security preferences at a conference in Tokyo last week.

When connecting, a Wireless USB-enabled host and devices will go through a series of verification steps, he said. For example, the device and host will request, receive and check each other's unique identifications, and then challenge each other with connection keys. If the host and device satisfy each other's challenges, they will establish a session key that is private for that connection.

Hosler, speaking at Intel's second annual R&D Day event, said the company wants Wireless USB to replace USB for very short-range networks. Companies want to make it as widespread in the home and office as USB is today, he said. Wireless can be snooped, so assuring privacy and security are essential to achieve this goal, he added.

"Because it's wireless, anyone can hear it. With USB, it's a cable, so it's inherently private. Our goal is to provide Wireless USB with the same level of security," Hosler said.

People may have several options about activating a connection.

For example, to upload pictures from their camera to their PC, users could press a button on the camera, which would then connect to the host. The Wireless USB connection between device and host could be automatic. If a switched-on device is within range of the host, it will alert the user, asking if they want to connect.

Intel wants Wireless USB networks to interface with the Ultra Wideband (UWB) standard to make networks that cover whole households.

The Wireless USB specification is for 480M bps (bits per second) transfer speed over distances of about three meters. It will work at lower speeds up to a distance of about 10 meters. UWB is designed to work at a similar speed up to 10 meters distance.

Wireless USB is backed by the Wireless USB Promoter Group, formed this February. The member companies are Agere Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, NEC Electronics, Philips Semiconductors, which is part of Koninklijke Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, and Intel.

Alereon, Appairent Technologies, Staccato Communications, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Wisair are also contributing technological support, Hosler said.

"Wireless USB has got the weight of the industry behind it," he said.

The situation for UWB is more complex because there are two competing standards. Intel backs the Multiband OFDM Alliance. This group's UWB technology works on more than one band. Motorola Inc. leads the other group. The conflict between the groups has yet to be resolved.

The Wireless USB chips will be ready by the middle of 2005. First products will be in shops at year-end. The Wireless USB Promoter Group will launch its public Web page on Nov.1 with details of a preliminary standard, he said.

The definitive version 1.0 standard will be available before the end of 2004, according to Intel.

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Paul Kallender

IDG News Service
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