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Wi-Fi 2.0: What is 802.11u and how can it improve security?

Network security expert Kevin Beaver discusses the reality of the 801.11u standard and its ability to both improve the ease of Wi-Fi access and boost security.

I heard that 802.11u -- aka. Passpoint, Wi-Fi 2.0 and Hotspot 2.0 -- will reportedly make Wi-Fi easier and improve security. Where is this standard at, what are the security implications, and when will it be available for use with enterprise devices?

IEEE 802.11u, a standard that has been around since 2011, helps minimize the hassles of connecting with a secure public wireless hotspot. In most situations, there is no security at all on public access points, but this standard -- dubbed Passpoint -- streamlines this process by requiring an initial, onetime sign-up by the user and making the secure connection (discovery and authentication) automated in the background moving forward.

There are currently over 600 wireless products that support Passpoint, and according to a study conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of the Wi-Fi Alliance, users would support Passpoint -- and even pay more for it.

While I love the idea of what it offers, I'm not convinced the average user cares about ultra-secure Internet access when going online in public places. Instead, most people are expedient -- they just want an Internet connection to hop onto and do what they need to do without thinking about the potential security or privacy consequences. The common beliefs I've seen are usually: "I don't have anything of value on my system or in the transactions with the websites and mobile apps I'm using" and "That's an IT thing that surely someone else is managing."

I hope that Passpoint does eventually become pervasive in the marketplace; we will all certainly benefit from it. For the foreseeable future, however, I think it may be a battle similar to that of selling information security in the corporate world -- something that's led by IT and vendors that ultimately trickles its way into the infrastructure for all to use.

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This was last published in January 2015

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