802.11i Ratification Expected To Spur WLAN Adoption

Thursday's final ratification of the 802.11i WLAN security standard will boost confidence in WLAN security and encourage enterprise deployment, experts say.

June 25, 2004

2 Min Read
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As expected, the IEEE Thursday formally -- and unanimously -- ratified the 802.11i security standard, also known as WPA2, for Wi-Fi networks.

While ratification was expected, it is widely considered as necessary to renew confidence in WLAN security, particularly by enterprise IT managers.

"It will definitely result in faster adoption of wireless in the enterprise because more companies will feel safer," said Phil Solis, senior analyst for ABI Research. "It's part psychological."

Solis noted that much of the standard had already been built into WLAN equipment. "Almost all equipment since late 2002 has had it," he noted. "All it will take is a firmware upgrade to get to the official standard. And equipment will now ship with it built-in so enterprises won't even have to go through the bother of upgrading the firmware of older stuff."

Besides encouraging adoption in the enterprise, Solis said he also expected ratification to encourage delivery of content to home users, where wireless LANs have been widely adopted."Content providers will feel more secure that the stuff they're sending can't be hijacked," Solis said. "If you're streaming a pay-per-view movie, it (802.11i) means your neighbor can't get it."

One area in which change will be slower will be Wi-Fi access by remote users at public hotspots. Solis said he expected most enterprises will continue to require using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access enterprise data when logged on from hotspots.

However, a number of hotspot vendors and aggregators have said they'll eventually deploy stronger security such as 802.11i at their hotspots.

Confidence in wireless security was lost when the initial protection scheme for 802.11 networks, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), proved relatively easy for hackers to break. A subsequent method, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) proved more secure but still wasn't seen as being thorough enough.

By contrast, WPA2's protection utilizes the more highly-regarded Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and other technologies for ensuring that wireless access is bullet-proof. The Wi-Fi Alliance is expected to begin official certification of 802.11i-compliante equipment in late summer or early fall.0

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