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May 2004

Secure data transmission with wireless access controllers

From coffee shops to corporate offices, airports to hotels, wireless fever is spreading. As WiFi-enabled laptops and PDAs become commonplace, the technology has become a standard part of corporate IT infrastructures. Still, security remains an issue and is arguably the main inhibitor of ubiquitous wireless deployment. The original 802.11 standard is wholly inadequate; WEP's encryption scheme is vulnerable to brute-force cracking, and its use of shared keys leaves it open to compromise. The draft 802.11i standard (pending approval) will offer more robust protection, leveraging the 802.1X authentication protocol and AES encryption. WiFi Protected Access (WPA), driven by vendors as an interim solution, incorporates TKIP to solve the shared key problem and requires no new hardware. That's all well and good, but WPA still uses WEP's RC4 algorithm, and WPA-certified products have been slow getting to market. 802.11i presents potential interoperability issues and will require extensive hardware reinvestments. Meanwhile, enterprises ...

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