The WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) standard, ratified last year by the Wi-Fi Alliance, will be making its way into products this summer. WPA provides a significant (if temporary) security boost for Wi-Fi networks by enhancing encryption and authentication capabilities while maintaining backward compatibility. This will allow companies to gradually migrate WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy)-based networks to WPA. For more information, go to www.weca.net/opensection/ protected_access.asp.
The IEEE (www.ieee.org) 802.11x standard provides user authentication and port-based access control in a three-component framework and is optional in WEP implementations. WPA requires 802.11x authentication using EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) and RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-in User Service) servers, or preshared keys. 802.11x authenti- cation brings much better access control and security breach assessment capabilities to WLANs.
The IEEE is completing the draft of the 802.11i standard, which is intended to address every flaw in 802.11 security. In fact, the WPA standard is taken from a subset of features found in 802.11i. The completed 802.11i standard will offer stronger encryption algorithms using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) and new privacy protocols, as well as a robust hierarchical key management scheme.
The 802.11i standard will require new chip sets to address the processing power required when using AES encryption, and the standard is not designed to be backward-compatible with existing 802.11 hardware. 802.11i is expected to be ratified at the end of this year, and products are currently forecast for early next year.
On the radio technology side, 802.11b is the most widely used WLAN standard, and its this radio type thats most frequently being built into mobile computers and offered at public hot-spot locations. However, as companies extend access to denser, more numerous and more demanding groups of WLAN users, they may find that 802.11a- and 802.11g-based radio technologies are a better fit.