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Wireless Basics

The smoke-filled room

Although I'd heard almost a year ago that a solution to WLAN security was imminent, months passed with only announcements of proprietary WLAN security systems from various vendors such as Funk, Symbol, Proxim and others. These systems incorporated pieces (and variations of pieces) of 802.11i, but were all aimed at enterprise-level WLANs and required authentication servers as part of their solutions. No one seemed to be interested in solving the residential / SOHO WLAN security problem.

As it turns out, the suspense of waiting for the IEEE to grind through its standards process was too much for some of the WLAN chip and equipment vendors to take, and they took matters into their own hands, forming a task group. From what I can gather, this group had the IEEE and Wi-Fi Alliance's blessing since the same companies participate in both organizations. The group gave the IEEE a way to let its standards-making process play out, while taking some of the heat off by getting a forward-compatible subset of the eventual 802.11i standard out into the market.

As reported by eWEEK and Computerworld a few months ago, the task group came up with something that was going to be called SSN (Safe Secure Networks, or Simple Secure Network... you decide!). But SSN looks like it was only going to address the WEP weakness part of the problem by blessing and deploying a protocol called TKIP (more on this shortly). This would still have left the authentication part of the WLAN security problem to be battled out in the market among the various proprietary solutions already being sold.

However somewhere in the past month or so, the authentication piece of the puzzle fell into place by taking the 802.1x and EAP pieces from the 802.11i toolbox, and adding them to TKIP. All that remained was to come up with a catchy(?) name that had the Wi-Fi branding in it... and voila, Wi-Fi Protected Access was born!

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