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Wi-Fi group backs brawnier security standard

An alliance says that Wi-Fi Protected Access 2, or WPA2, is a big improvement on earlier wireless security standards.

The first products certified to support Wi-Fi Protected Access 2, the latest wireless security technology, were announced by the Wi-Fi Alliance on Wednesday.

The Wi-Fi Alliance says WPA2 is a big improvement on earlier wireless security standards, such as Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which hackers have found easy to circumvent. It includes Advanced Encryption Standard, which supports 128-bit, 192-bit and 256-bit keys.

Because WPA2 is compatible with WPA, companies that have already implemented WPA can upgrade to the new standard in stages.

"WPA2 is ideally suited for enterprises in both the public and private sectors," said Frank Hanzlik, Wi-Fi Alliance managing director. "Products that are certified for WPA2 give IT managers the assurance that the technology meets interoperability standards and in turn helps them manage support and deployment costs."

Components of WPA2 are included in the 802.11i standard, which was developed by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and received final approval earlier this summer.

Security, or the lack of it, is thought to have inhibited the implementation of wireless networks by businesses. Analysts predict that 802.11i could be what is needed to boost the enterprise Wi-Fi market.

As is often the case with new standards, some vendors were keen to steal a march on their rivals. Wireless equipment using prestandard versions of 802.11i has been available for most of this year, but buyers had no guarantee of interoperability.

A Wi-Fi Alliance spokesman said on Wednesday that WPA2 would be "the core from which other security measures emanate" in the future.

Companies obtaining WPA2 certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance on Sept. 1 include Atheros Communications, Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Intel and Realtek.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.