That covers the basics of securing your wireless network.
Fairly recently, a new standard of wireless encryption was introduced which
resolves most of the security issues that plague WEP. Called Wireless
Protected Access, or WiFi Protected Access (WPA), the new standard
was intended to replace WEP entirely as a single means of reliably securing
WLANs. What actually happened was that most new products ended up
supporting both encryption methods for backwards compatibility as well as the
fact that WPA has a significantly higher overhead than WEP. WPA was
commissioned as a stopgap replacement for WEP after the latter’s security
inadequacies came to light.
WPA is the wireless networking industries response to
all the problems brought about by WEP being compromised, and it seeks to offer
strong protection that is easy to implement on the home or business level. If
you have wireless networking hardware that is firmware upgradable, you
may even be able to upgrade your existing WAPs and NICs to use WPA -
though this will depend on individual manufacturers.
WPA uses what are called Pre-Shared Keys (PSK)
which are similar to the 'passphrases' or 'shared keys' of WEP, but much
more secure. As a subset of the emerging 802.11x (and 802.11i) standard, WPA has
several very enticing advancements.
For starters, the session keys (PSK) are not actually
used to encrypt data, but instead used to create ever changing encryption
cyphers through the RC4 encryption engine. The key advancements are beyond the
scope of this guide, but include 48-bit IV, Message Integrity Code (MIC), Key
Detection and Distribution parameters.
Assuming manufacturers introduce firmware that enables
you to update your existing WLAN hardware, the process should be no more
complicated than upgrading the software and firmware on both the wireless access
point and NIC, configuring a pre-shared key on the WAP, and configuring a PSK on
the client PCs.
Since WPA is simply an advanced security standard, WLAN
hardware still communicates in the same 2.4GHz region, though WEP and WPA cannot
coexist. If used, WPA replaces WEP entirely, and that will secure your wireless
networking connection to a degree that WEP has never been able to
If you are planning on investing in wireless networking
equipment soon, ensure that it supports WPA as well as WEP. In
the future, the newly ratified 802.11i wireless security standard will likely
take over, merging the secure encryption of WPA with features that allow
better integration with ‘wired’ network security and authentication methods.
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