WiFi Security, Complexity and Future Debated

Despite a healthy boom for WiFi wireless products among home users, issues of security and complexity are still holding back the technology on the enterprise side, experts at a wireless conference said this week.

While speakers at the WiFi Planet Conference in San Jose, California, talked about improvements in the technology and the incredible market gains of WiFi — despite adverse economic conditions — there was still concern that the onslaught of even more WiFi equipment, particularly among corporations, could hinder the technology’s future development.

Propagate Networks cofounder Paul Callahan, who spoke at the conference in San Jose Friday, told TechNewsWorld that interference issues among the many new wireless hotspots could threaten to complicate WiFi’s continued success.

“It’s a very big deal from a radio frequency perspective,” Callahan said of WiFi complexity, one of the biggest topics at the conference. “There’s a hidden gotcha that’s going to bite the industry. The trend is inevitable because the WiFi industry is driven by low-cost equipment.”

WiFi Moves Ahead

In response to concerns over complexity and security, wireless industry experts promised new standards that should begin appearing in products throughout next year.

Among the more prominent and significant is 802.11e, which is aimed at enhancing earlier flavors of the wireless technology and improving the quality of wireless connections for voice, video and other multimedia communication.

For security, the industry is looking to the 802.11i standard, which improves on both the Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP) used in early deployments and the interim security protocol known as WiFi Protected Access (WPA).

Tactical, Not Total

Bob Moskowitz, TruSecure’s ICSA Labs senior technical director, has worked extensively with standards-setting bodies on WiFi technology and told TechNewsWorld that current industry security efforts are “tactical” rather than long-term solutions. While he described measures to get around band-aid security approaches, Moskowitz added that they are problematic.

“These issues are holding people back and vendors are doing tactical solutions right now,” he said. “Vendors are still trying to sell their tactical solutions. I think their time is fading.”

Moskowitz described testing of the 802.11i security as “so so” and added that those who deploy wireless solutions now will be challenged.

Nevertheless, Moskowitz — who warned last month of a passphrase issue that rendered WPA security inadequate — said the 802.11i security standard will address the problems and should be easier to adopt as the industry moves forward.

Tempting and Troublesome

On issues of complexity, Propagate’s Callahan warned that as more and more hotspots and wireless devices roll out, interference could become “a nightmare.”

To deal with the problem, Callahan cited Propagate’s work with network gateway and switch players ReefEdge, Bluesocket and Chantry Networks to use common application programming interfaces (APIs) that automate the management of wireless networks.

“Why they jumped all over it is because it could allow us to manage new, low-cost access points coming out of Taiwan,” Callahan said. “They’re injecting our code into them as the wave of these products is going to hit.”

Callahan said the wave of products will attract even more businesses to WiFi, making management of neighboring and numerous hotspots even more critical.

“Low-cost products are what make this market go,” he said. “It’s all coming out of Taiwan and China, and it’s all targeted at the U.S. market. It’s going to be an interesting time. I don’t think [businesses] are going to be able to resist.”

1 Comment

  • The next big security option for enterprise wireless is the use of WLAN smart cards. The technology is well evolved and the risk of attacks is reduced. It also creates a dynamic security environment whcih leaves the network and the system less vulnerable to attacks.

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