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Microsoft releases new wireless solutions

The new solution is intended to be a replacement for the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) standard and offers more-robust methods of data encryption and network authentication. The result is a newlevel of protection for customers taking advantage of the wireless features in Windows XP.

“Customers tell us the wireless experience with Windows XP represents a huge leap forward in terms of ease of use. Yet, even with these enhancements, many IT managers are hesitant to enable wireless connectivity in their organizations due to security concerns,” said Jawad Khaki, corporate vice president of Windows Networking and Communications Technologies at Microsoft. “With standards-based Wi-Fi Protected Access, customers can have more confidence their data will be safer and more secure.”

Wi-Fi Protected Access increases security on two fronts: data encryption and user authentication. To improve data encryption, Wi-Fi Protected Access resolves existing cryptographic weaknesses and introduces a method to generate and distribute encryption keys automatically. Each bit of data is now encrypted with a unique encryption key, greatly improving security. The solution also introduces an integrity check on the data so an attacker cannot modify packets of information being communicated. And to improve enterprise-level user authentication, Wi-Fi Protected Access authenticates every user on the network while keeping those users from joining rogue networks.

The addition of Wi-Fi Protected Access to Windows XP systems builds on the investments Microsoft has already made in the wireless experience. The new security enhancements add to the Wi-Fi wireless functionality built into Windows XP, delivering on one of the operating system’s key design goals: to make Wi-Fi connectivity as easy as possible for users. Windows XP also offers auto-configuration, which allows users to connect to a Wi-Fi wireless network with just one click, a vast improvement over previous versions of the Windows operating system.

Wi-Fi Protected Access also represents a step toward 802.11i, a standard being developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.’s Standards Working Group for Wireless Local Area Networks. Microsoft has been working with many members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, including Agere Systems Inc., Broadcom Corp., Intel Corp., Intersil Corp., Linksys Group Inc., Proxim Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc., to ensure that Windows XP customers can apply Wi-Fi Protected Access and receive the benefits of enhanced security today, then seamlessly upgrade to 802.11i once it is available.

“Wi-Fi Protected Access meets customers’ needs for an end-to-end, standards-based security solution that can be applied to both new and existing wireless LAN products,” said Edward Frank, senior director of Engineering of the Client Server Networking Business Unit at Broadcom. “Broadcom is proud to be a close development partner with Microsoft to enable our customers to address their security concerns.”

“Protecting home and business Wi-Fi wireless networks from outside attackers is one of our highest of priorities,” said Matt McRae, director of broadband services at Linksys. “Security is key to adding peace of mind and driving adoption of wireless networking. Adding WPA functionality to our wireless products and Windows XP will enable a better user experience while protecting and enhancing privacy for business data and family members surfing the Web.”

Gartner Dataquest forecasts the penetration rate of wireless local area networks (WLANs) into the professional mobile PC installed base will grow from 9 percent in 2000 to almost 50 percent by the end of 2003, and the rate is expected to surpass 90 percent by 2007. Gartner also advises enterprises that have already deployed WLAN products to upgrade to the Wi-Fi Protected Access versions of those products as they become available.2 Because WPA will work with products on the market today, enterprises can benefit immediately from its implementation.

“If customers are concerned about the security of their Wi-Fi networks, they need to move as quickly as possible to implement Wi-Fi Protected Access,” said William Arbaugh, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maryland. “WPA addresses known security issues and provides a smooth upgrade path for future security enhancements to Wi-Fi networking.”

AvailabilityThe Windows XP upgrade supporting Wi-Fi Protected Access is available as a free1 download for both enterprise and home users at http://microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=009D8425-CE2B-47A4-ABEC-274845DC9E91&displaylang=en.

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