IEEE panel set to adopt new Wi-Fi standard

The 802.11i standard would make Wi-Fi products more secure.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) standards board is expected to decide today whether to formally accept the 802.11i protocol as an industry specification to make Wi-Fi products more secure.

Many in the wireless industry have eagerly awaited formal acceptance of the standard, hoping it will be a big security improvement over some other wireless protocols, particularly the much-maligned 802.11b. The 802.11i protocol is designed to better encrypt data sent along a Wi-Fi-established WLAN and ensure it can't be cracked if intercepted.

"Working off draft standards can be difficult for Wi-Fi product developers," said Brian Mathews, publicity chairman of the IEEE 802.11 working group and vice president of AbsoluteValue Systems of Melbourne, Fla., which develops Linux-based WLAN products. "Approval of 802.11i gives them a final standard to work with."

In the end, Mathews said the big winner will be the end user, who will have greater access to interoperable products equipped with beefed-up security that addresses problems in earlier protocols.

"Before, with the way encryption keys were used," Mathews said, an intruder would hear enough to eventually crack data packets. "The keys would have to be manually changed periodically to keep that from happening."

The new standard corrects that problem by automatically changing the encryption keys, he said.

"This will lead to future products that have higher encryption standards," Mathews said.

The IEEE describes itself as "the world's largest technical professional society -- promoting the development and application of electrotechnology and allied sciences for the benefit of humanity, the advancement of the profession, and the well-being of our members."

It fosters the development of standards that often become nationally and internationally adopted. The organization publishes a number of journals, has many local chapters, and several large societies in special areas, such as the IEEE Computer Society.

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