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Wi-Fi Alliance Program To Ease Security Setup For Consumers

Las Vegas — The first wireless-networking products certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance as offering a simplified way for consumers to secure their networks will ship early in the first quarter, the alliance announced here at International CES. Some of the products are on display here at the show.

The Alliance’s optional certification standard, called Wi-Fi Protected Setup, “will make it easier for consumers to get the highest level of security,” said Karen Hanley, the alliance’s senior marketing director. The standard reduces the number of steps that consumers must endure to four to activate Alliance-required WPA2 security. That’s down from the average eight required by various suppliers’ proprietary security-setup methods, she said. The standard will also reduce consumer frustration because the setup method will be standardized and will not vary by supplier, she added.

The intent is to encourage a broadening base of Wi-Fi consumers to use the government-grade security technology embedded in all alliance-certified products. “New Wi-Fi users are not as patient with setup modes,” she explained. About two of every five Wi-Fi network users, she noted, haven’t activated WPA2 security, and about half of those haven’t done so because they find it too confusing. The other half “believe in openness,” she said.

Devices from seven companies are already certified because the devices were used by the Alliance as test-bed devices to develop the certification process, said Hanley. An unspecified number of those devices are on display at CES. Other new products can be submitted immediately by suppliers to Alliance-approved labs for certification.

Wi-Fi Protected Setup involves the automatic generation of a unique network name (SSID) and activation of encryption using WPA/WPA2. Consumers won’t have to create their own network name or activate and configure encryption settings.

To make it possible for a product to join the network, suppliers would have the option of incorporating one of two methods into a device: an automatic pushbutton method or manual entry of a PIN code. In both cases, the network name and encryption settings are transmitted to the device in an encrypted manner. &N>Access points will support both PIN and push-button methods.

With either method, consumers would turn on an access point, then turn on a client such as a notebook PC. That’s step one and two. Then the network will generate its own SSID and broadcast it to all client devices.

Steps three and four go like this: With the pushbutton method, the user pushes a button on the access point, then pushes a hard or soft button on the client device. With the PIN method, users access the network registrar application via PC or laptop, and then enter the PIN for their device.