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T-Mobile works to tighten Wi-Fi security

The carrier starts testing the 802.1x spec at certain U.S. hot spots, part of a push to lock up data and reassure businesses wary about the safety of information on Wi-Fi networks.

T-Mobile USA is adopting a specification that's designed to prevent the hijacking of information between a Wi-Fi network and a client device, a move that's aimed at improving the security of its wireless hot spots.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based wireless company announced on Monday that it has been testing the 802.1x security specification at selected hot spots, which are public places where wireless Web access is available. It said it plans to add support of the specification across its entire Wi-Fi network in the United States by the second quarter of next year.


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Securing the transmission of data over wireless networks is a major concern for information technology managers, and so far, it has been a limiting factor in businesses' adoption of Wi-Fi technology, according to analysts. However, as more traveling professionals use the technology as a convenient means of accessing corporate data and e-mail, information technology administrators may feel more comfortable; public wireless access should become more secure as specifications such as 802.1x and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) become more prevalent.

The 802.1x specification tackles a major security concern over access control and the use of Wi-Fi wireless networking technology: It stops information from being intercepted while it is being transferred between a Wi-Fi network and a client computer or other device.

"More IT departments will have to audit the venues that employees use to access corporate data, and as more service providers use these security specifications, the more likely businesses are to use them," said John Yunker, an analyst with research firm Pyramid Research.

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Still, there is some skepticism among IT professionals about the effectiveness of these measures, simply because many are relatively untested.

"This is a good step in the right direction, but all of these specifications are fairly new, so people need them to be out longer in order to gain trust in them," said Allen Nogee, an analyst with research firm In-Stat/MDR. "Usually, the test of time will prove whether or not they are successful."

Security concerns aren't slowing the use of hot-spot service for T-Mobile USA, according to Joe Sims, general manager of T-Mobile HotSpot, who noted that businesses accounted for 88 percent of the network's usage.

"We want to remove whatever barriers that big businesses have in terms of security and help smaller businesses that don't have IT support to feel more comfortable using our hot-spot service," Sims said.

T-Mobile has 3,000 hot-spot locations in the United States.

The company noted Monday that its hot spots would be compatible with Microsoft's Wireless Provisioning Services technology, which also supports the 802.1x specification. Wireless Provisioning Services is essentially an add-on to Windows XP that is designed to make it easier for PC owners to make a connection via a Wi-Fi hot spot. The technology will be available as a free upgrade to the operating system at the beginning of next year.