WLAN vendors embrace security spec

Makers of IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN equipment climbed on the bandwagon this week for a new security specification that may help pave the way for more wireless LANs in large enterprises.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced Tuesday its first product certifications under the new WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) specification, naming equipment and components from Atheros Communications, Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Intel, Intersil and Symbol Technologies.

WPA is a subset of the IEEE 802.11i standard, which has not yet been approved. It improves upon the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) technology now included in 802.11, most importantly by replacing WEP's static encryption key with a dynamic one and incorporating the 802.1x standard for user authentication.

With broad vendor support, WPA may go a long way toward simplifying enterprise wireless LAN deployments because it provides consistency across vendors.

Joe Kitting, a network specialist at Medical College of Ohio who attended a panel discussion on WPA at Networld+Interop Tuesday, has high hopes for WPA. The college, in Toledo, Ohio, currently has wireless LAN gear from two different vendors and had been contemplating paying extra for third-party management and security to handle both. Upgrades to WPA should give the two sets of gear a strong security system with cross-vendor interoperability, Kitting said. He also said it should let the college comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) with regard to the privacy of data it sends over wireless LANs.

The list of certified products this week included the makers of chipsets that go into much of the wireless LAN gear on the market. Several additional vendors this week said they are on track to offer the technology soon.

Buffalo Technology (USA) announced Monday it would ship WPA-enabled products by the middle of this month. They will include the AirStation 54Mbps Wireless Broadband Base Station and the AirStation G54 Wireless Notebook Adapter, a PC Card client device with an interface for an external 2.4GHz antenna. The products are based on a Broadcom chipset.

D-Link Systems said in a statement Thursday that its AirPlus, AirPremiere, AirPlus Xtreme G and AirExpert AGB wireless LAN product lines will be equipped with WPA by the end of the second quarter, available both in shipping products and in free firmware upgrades for current customers.

Linksys Group will make WPA available in its Wireless-G products via firmware and software upgrades from www.linksys.com by the end of this month, the company announced Wednesday. By the end of August, Linksys expects to provide WPA upgrades for many of its Wireless Dual-Band A+G and Wireless-B products, according to a statement.

NetGear expects to provide a WPA firmware upgrade for its Model ME103 802.11b ProSafe Wireless Access Point, a product geared toward businesses, by the end of June, according to Product Line Manager Kevin Allan. The company eventually will extend WPA support to most other equipment but may not be able to add it to all products now in customers' hands, he added. About six weeks after WPA firmware becomes available for a given device, the company should be able to ship the product with built-in WPA.

SMC Networks Inc. also announced Thursday that WPA will be built in to all of its wireless LAN products by the end of June.

Some equipment makers, such as Cisco, have offered their own security systems to overcome the weaknesses of WEP. Cisco is now embracing WPA, though it will continue to support its own technology for current customers who want to make a gradual transition, said Cisco Technical Marketing Manager Bruce Alexander at the Networld+Interop panel discussion. Going beyond the access point already certified by Wi-Fi, Cisco hopes to roll out WPA support across its entire wireless LAN lineup over the next few months, he said.

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