Wireless body simplifies security setup

The group that certifies wi-fi products aims to make more wireless LANs secure by taking some of the work out of locking them down.

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The group that certifies wi-fi products aims to make more wireless LANs secure by taking some of the work out of locking them down.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced its wi-fi protected setup (WPS) specification on Monday, which lays out an easier process for setting up a secure wireless LAN.

Security has greatly improved since home users first embraced wireless LANs a few years ago but most users still don’t use the available tools because they are too hard to set up. WPS cuts the number of steps required to secure a new network. Although vendors have been selling their own simplified security systems, they want a standard technology that access points and devices from all vendors can use, according to Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Wireless LAN security systems, including the current wi-fi protected access 2 (WPA2) standard, encrypt traffic and require user authentication to get on the network. Traditionally, when consumers set up new wireless LANs, they have to set a network name and a ‘pass phrase’ for the access point, then select the name and enter the pass phrase on every new device as they add it to the network.

With WPS, the access point automatically generates a network name. Users can add clients to the secure network by either entering a PIN of four or eight digits or pushing special buttons built in to the access point and client. Later this year, the Wi-Fi Alliance will start certifying products that use near-field communication, in which users simply touch a token or card to the new device.

The new standard will help but will not make all new LANs secure, said Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney. “A lot of users will just leave the security off like they do today but if you want security, this is a lot easier than the current process,” Dulaney said.

Security was the top concern of wi-fi users surveyed in 2006, but only 60 per cent secured their networks, according to JupiterResearch analyst Ina Sebastian. The main reason they gave for not doing so was uncertainty about the technology. Easy security setup will become even more important as consumers start adding more entertainment devices to their LANs because many wireless entertainment users are concerned about eavesdropping, she said.

For more information, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive network security resource page.

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