Wi-Fi Security Standard Nears Approval

The IEEE's 802.11i spec, which could be ratified this week, will add a layer of security to the Wi-Fi standard with its encryption protocols.

Industry sources said the IEEE 802.11i specification could be ratified this Thursday, adding a needed layer of security to the Wi-Fi standard.

Sources said the draft specification is on the agenda to be ratified this week as part of an IEEE-SA standards committee meeting in Piscataway, N.J. One source said that although a vote on the proposed specification is not guaranteed, a decision to end the three-year standards process is likely.

The 802.11i standard would add a needed layer of security to Wi-Fi, which has become widespread both in the consumer and corporate spaces. Early attempts at security, such as WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), provided some basic security but were derided as too easy to crack.

A superior form of encryption, dubbed WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), has basically replaced WEP, although it still doesnt meet the stringent standards needed for the transmission of sensitive government data.

802.11is encryption protocols are based on the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

The IEEE began decided in May 2001 to split the quality-of-service and security enhancements to the IEEE 802.11 MAC standard into specific working groups. Since then, the members have gone through a lengthy process of hammering out a spec, submitting comments which are then considered by the working group at large.

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IEEE members met most recently in Southern California, according to Paul Lambert of AirGo Networks, to discuss comments on draft specification 10.0. But only two were received, and both were rejected. The task force must decide this week whether the remaining negative comments on the draft specification are worthy of consideration and, if so, whether they necessitate an additional revision.

If the specification is approved, most manufacturers will be able to push out firmware upgrades in a matter of weeks, if not sooner, via firmware upgrades. Actual 802.11i hardware-based support will probably be baked into the next revision of chips, the sources said.

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Editors Note: This article has been updated with information from AirGos Paul Lambert, who reported that the IEEE 802.11i working group last met in Southern California. The encryption standard which the 802.11i standard is based upon has also been clarified.