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WiFi secure at last?

Regulators are working on beefing up wireless security standards to make hacking into wireless LANs more challenging.

It seems those pesky regulators may be about to stop one of the most over hyped, rare occurrences known to this crazy world of technology: wireless network joyriding, known as War-Chalking, War-Driving, Air-Hopping. You've heard of it, right?

It's where someone discovers a wireless network, in the City perhaps, and plugs their laptop into that network for a few hours of priceless wireless surfing. Well it's all just about to come to an end thanks to the WiFi Alliance

The industry body, the WiFi Alliance, has outlined its plans to beef up security across wireless networks in order to prevent the apparently damaging practice of War-Chalking, or indeed simply hacking a wireless network. The new standard it has proposed is the WPA, Wireless Protected Access standard, which will stand in as a replacement to the fairly shoddy WEP, Wired Equivalent Privacy, and as a stepping stone before the implementation of the 802.11i security standard from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

The new standard is very much working with the IETF standard in mind and is likely to include the facility for inclusion of such standards. Fundamentally however, WPA uses a standard called TKIP, Temporal Key Integrity Protocol, which, interestingly, uses the same algorithm as the old WEP standard - although keys are constructed in a different fashion. This will give each network user their own security key that can be changed periodically, making the whole thing somewhat more secure.

You can expect to see this protocol emerging early next year with certification penciled in for February. It'll still use the 802.XX standard for access though and its hoped the whole thing will put an end to the illicit practice of joyriding on someone else's private wireless network. It all started to get a bit popular earlier this year in London. It must have been big too because even the CBI found out about it and made a stand.

There's an awful lot riding on the security developments of WiFi. A lot of companies are staking a lot of money on it and, it would seem, that both business and consumers are very interested in this technology. Intel, for instance, has recently invested more than $100 million in WiFi start-ups and plans to start shipping its Collexico wireless chip component, that will have both 802.11a and 802.11b compatibility. Let's just hope this helps plug the gap and enables developments to progress.

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