The IEEE has approved yet another specification in the 802.11 family of wireless ethernet. This time it's a new Wi-Fi security standard, dubbed 802.11i.
Adding to the alphabet soup that is the Wi-Fi family of protocols, the IEEE has approved a new wireless security protocol dubbed 802.11i, intended to finally provide sufficient security for wireless connections that users don't need to rely on alternate security layers.
Wi-Fi technology, including 802.11b, 802.11a, and 802.11g transmission standards, has long been criticized for its lack of decent security and privacy. The first attempt at a security system for Wi-Fi was Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which was based on a very simple private key system that served as little more than a speed bump for malicious users. Subsequent systems have tried to tighten security, but so far none have faced widespread adoption. 802.11i is expected to be certified as Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) compliant.
Although the specification is now approved, software to make it usable won't be available to customers until September, when the Wi-Fi Alliance will begin compatibility testing for new devices.
The new specification works by using AES encryption in the transceiver itself, encrypting data directly at the level just above the actual radio pulses themselves. That makes it transparent for applications sending data through the radio, so legacy programs running on new 802.11i-compliant hardware will automatically get the benefits of the new protocol without the need for modification. That, it is hoped, will allow corporate users to do away with complex Virtual Private Network (VPN) setups within the company without worrying about users inadvertently broadcasting sensitive information in the clear.
AES encryption is non-trivial, however, so there is a performance penalty to encode and decode the data. Most of that encryption will be handled by the CPU, so while bandwidth should not be affected the strain on the processor may be. That will also keep a laptop running in a higher-power mode longer, which may or may not affect battery life. Definitive studies on the matter are as yet unavailable.