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Wireless Basics

Introduction

The Wi-Fi Alliance and IEEE 802.11 Task Group i have finally heard the voice of the marketplace.

I'm not sure whether the Halloween release of the announcement of a security solution called Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) was an inside joke or what. But I'm glad that someone finally came to their senses and realized that if they had waited the additional one to two years that the IEEE said it was going to take, that the marketplace was either going to decide for them, or create a fragmentation that would take years (if ever) to pull back together.

WPA is a subset of the IEEE 802.11i draft standard and is designed to be forward-compatible with 802.11i when it is finally published. The Q&A (PDF format) on the Wi-Fi Alliance's website says that WPA was created when "several members of the Wi-Fi Alliance teamed up with members of the IEEE 802.11i task group". Whether these folks jumped at the chance or had to be pushed is covered in the next section. But no matter how messy the birthing process, WPA seems to be a pretty good improvement over the present sorry state of WLAN security by providing improved encryption and simple, but robust, user authentication, that even home wireless networkers will be able to use.

Although the Wi-Fi Alliance is careful to point out that WPA isn't a standard, but instead a "specification of standards-based, interoperable security enhancements", it looks like it might as well be one. WLAN equipment vendors are lining up behind the spec with press releases issued by Intersil, Agere, Atheros, Funk Software, and Atmel concurrent with the Wi-Fi Alliance release.

But where did WPA come from? Any why now?

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