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Wi-Fi Security's Network Problems

Promise: WPA Personal is a simple way to secure wireless networks without having to type keys in manually, buy everything from one vendor, or install bloated client-side software that only works on a Windows PC.

Players: The standard is driven by the Wi-Fi Alliance, but unlike previous Wi-Fi standards it's too high up the stack to involve the IEEE. Broadcom's proprietary system is popular in the home market, but Microsoft is catching up fast.

Prospects: Basic support for WPA Personal is mandatory in all newly released Wi-Fi products as of this month, but the Wi-Fi Alliance's tests assume that encryption keys have already been shared. There's little chance of agreement on a secure way to share them anytime soon.

With security such an important concern for wireless networks, most new Wi-Fi gear has long supported Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2), the latest standard for encrypting data sent over the air. As of this month, all Wi-Fi gear will, as the Wi-Fi Alliance is making WPA2 compatibility a mandatory part of its interoperability tests. But there are two kinds of WPA2, and most Wi-Fi phones and many other gadgets support only the lesser version, which was originally designed for home networks.

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