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How will IEEE 802.11ax prevent IoT security vulnerabilities?

Router security vulnerabilities become a bigger problem as IoT devices become more widely used. The IEEE 802.11ax protocol could help, as expert Judith Myerson explains.

My colleague told me that IEEE 802.11ax would better support the internet of things, or IoT. Will it improve IoT...

security? Will IEEE 802.11ax prevent issues like the recent Netgear router vulnerabilities?

Most 802.11ac Wi-Fi routers serve one device at a time on the overcrowded Wi-Fi networks in high-density areas. Users don't share devices; they take turns broadcasting and listening on each device.

Those users may be happy to hear the IEEE 802.11ax version enables multiple users to share devices at the same time. The standard specifies larger capacity, better speed range and longer battery life.

The average throughput for each user is four times larger, and subcarrier spacing is narrower. IEEE 802.11ax works with both the 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz bands. The 2.4 GHz band is more crowded, but offers longer range connections than the 5 GHz band. Also, a feature called Target Wake Time enables devices to save battery power by scheduling when and how frequently they will wake up to receive and send data.

IEEE 802.11ax enables IoT applications to operate on very low power at 20 MHz. Smaller blocks of about 2 MHz resource units are transmitted. The access point can talk to IoT clients as low as 375 Kbps, while using higher bandwidth channels for network access clients.

While IEEE 802.11ax might improve the security of IoT by having multiple users with proper authentications access multiple devices, it has drawbacks. The standard doesn't contain or refer to authentication or encryption protocols.

Qualcomm Inc. offers two 802.11ax chips -- one for wireless routers and enterprise access points, and the other for laptops, smartphones and tablets that can access IoT. Both the router and the receiving device need to be multiuser and multiple input, multiple output compatible. Obviously, Qualcomm doesn't guarantee that its chips will have no vulnerabilities, but the chip maker has addressed and fixed bugs in older chips.

Netgear welcomes IEEE 802.11ax as the new standard for IoT-connected routers in the home and small businesses. However, with certain routers, the standard cannot prevent vulnerabilities like those Netgear experienced.

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Next Steps

Check out these three steps to mitigate router security issues

Learn about the FCC's compliance regulations for Wi-Fi router security

Discover how Cisco uses internet routers to secure VPN traffic

This was last published in September 2017

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