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Would you please share your thoughts about the future of WLAN security?

I am concern about the future of WLAN security. Would you please share your thoughts about the future of WLAN security?
It's always good to hear that people are concerned about the future of a technology, especially when it comes to the security inherent in that technology – but I can tell you today, I'm not.

One day I'd like to write a definitive guide to wireless security so that I never had to answer this question again. The only problem is that as soon as I wrote it, it would be out of date – most likely because there would be some new and more secure method of securing a wireless network that I hadn't read about, thought about or used before I finished the guide.

If I was going to write a paper in response to your question this is how I'd do it. I'd sit here and tell you a little story about the evolution of security on both public and private wired LANs. I'd include a discussion on the proprietary solutions followed by the consolidation of the industry and the evolution of standards. I would talk about the initial "security-through-obscurity" and the rudimentary encryption algorithms. I'd closely follow that discussion up with notes describing how those encryption methods were found to have large flaws in them by academics and the implementation of those exploits that followed shortly after. I would talk about the implementation of new technologies by the IEEE, IETF and other standards boards such as 802.1X port security - which was able to leverage existing authentication services such as an organization's RADIUS server. I'd then continue the discussion with an analysis of the digital certificates and how asymmetric keys allowed for confidentiality, data integrity and authenticity and how it allowed for multiple layers of data security. Once done, I'd wrap up the conversation with a look at the social acceptance of LAN based security architectures, the occasional flaws found and the steps that people took, and continue to take to enforce security (IDS, firewalls, etc.)

And that's it. The truth is that the evolution of wireless is fundamentally the same as the evolution of the wired LAN. The only exception is that wired networks primarily became insure as they became large whereas wireless networks were insecure from the moment they were erected.

Is security an issue? Yes. Should you be concerned about the future of wireless as a result of current security issues? No. The bottom line is that wireless is here to stay. Whether its 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.15 or 802.16 the technology is not going anywhere and there will be security issues that will be resolved, one at a time.

This was last published in July 2003

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