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Chips simplify Wi-Fi security for consumers

Posted: 17 Jan 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Wi-Fi? network security? WPS? Atheros? Wi-Fi Alliance?

The Wi-Fi Alliance is making security in wireless networks a bit easier to accomplish. A handful of chips will roll out this quarter that support the alliance's Wi-Fi Protected Setup, a method that relies on a PIN number or the push of a button to set up network security.

Introduced last week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the approach is sorely needed to sort out today's mishmash of proprietary schemes. Lack of a standard security approach has created a headache for consumers, many of whom feel they need a rocket scientist to help them navigate the maze of WEP, WPA, WPA2, SSIDs and sundry techie tasks that only an engineer could love. The alliance said the Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) will halve the steps needed to set up a secure network.

Handy approach
That should come in handy for the two out of five consumers who describe securing their networks as moderately to very difficult and don't do it, according to a recent study by WFA/Kelton Research.

The WPS specification is implemented at the software level, so chip and system makers will bundle the application with system drivers. Legacy systems will also be able to download the new application.

Providing a foolproof way to secure wireless networks seems like a no-brainer. But the process took years because the IEEE did not undertake a standards effort, leaving the Wi-Fi Alliance to handle the task. "This was the first instance where Wi-Fi Alliance had to come up with both the specification and the test plan," said Teresa Liou, a senior product manager at Atheros Communications Inc., which is calling its version of WPS Jumpstart 2.0.

Net security made easy

Straightforward process
On paper, the process seems straightforward. When a consumer turns on a WPS device, the network will ask the user to enter an eight-digit PIN or push a button. Once entered, the network name and encryption data will be transferred to the PC, camera or phone. Later this year, the alliance will add support for NFC and USB flash drives.

Doug Hagen of networking-product maker Netgear Inc. said the company is developing several routers that will support WPS in the coming months. "We are fully supportive of this initiative," he said.

The Wi-Fi Protected Setup will be an optional certification program. For those that complete it, the alliance has designed a Wi-Fi Protected Setup logo that will go alongside the Wi-Fi Certified logo. The alliance is making the WPS 1.0 specification available at its Website for $99.

- Mike Clendenin

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