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WiFi eyes better wireless LAN security

The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), which certifies IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN products with the WiFi label, will...

The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), which certifies IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN products with the WiFi label, will announce a set of mechanisms to combat the security problem that has plagued wireless LANs.

A WECA official did not provide details of the mechanisms but said they are intended to replace the existing security system based on Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP).

WEP, which is built into products that use the IEEE 802.11b and 802.11a standards, is easy for intruders to break into, according to many analysts. A task group within the working group that administers 802.11 in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) is developing a security specification that would require equipment to support several different strong algorithms for encrypting traffic. That work is not done yet, and products using it are not expected until the second half of next year.

WECA has taken a "snapshot" of part of the security task group's work to get better security to the market sooner, said Al Petrick, vice-chairman of the IEEE 802.11 working group.

Security concerns have hindered the acceptance of wireless LANs, especially in corporations, overshadowing the potential benefits of letting employees stay connected to a network while moving around a building or campus.

With WEP, the keys used to encrypt data passing over the network can be cracked by examining a brief sample of packets, according to Peter Shipley, a security consultant.

Some vendors, such as Cisco Systems, sell corporate 802.11 systems equipped with other methods of security on top of WEP. However, most consumer-oriented wireless LAN equipment offers only WEP.

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