Setting up security on a home wireless network is complex and unwieldy, judging by the estimated 70 percent of home wireless users surfing on unsecured networks. But a handful of wireless chip manufacturers and an organization called the Wi-Fi Alliance are working toward creating a “certification” that would make it far easier for the average person to set up security measures and browse the Web with ease of mind.
When a wireless network is open, it can cause problems: neighbors or passers-by can hop on to it, snare bandwidth, and ultimately reduce the speed that information can be transferred – or sneak a peak at one’s private information. With simple downloadable software called “packet sniffers” a novice hacker can read e-mails, for example, from an unsecured network. Such scenarios are part of a larger problem: convincing people that security is important, says Adam Stubblefield, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University.
It’s not as if people don’t want to lock down their networks. A major reason why so many wireless networks go unsecured is simply because doing so is a hassle, says Stubblefield. In many cases, people have to navigate through a series of setup steps presented on their computer screens. Often they’re asked what type of security protocol they want to use – something an IT professional would know, but the average user may not. And if they choose a protocol for which their computer doesn’t have the correct drivers, they won’t be able to connect to their network. “It could become frustrating,” Stubblefield says.
These ease-of-use issues have motivated a number of wireless chip manufacturers, including Broadcom, Atheros, and others, to devise simpler security solutions for hardware and software. It has also prompted the Wi-Fi Alliance – a nonprofit organization composed of some 250 companies in the wireless industry – to establish a Wi-Fi security certification. The goal of the certification is to ensure interoperability between routers and devices approved by the organization and to give people a simple security interface, says Karen Hanley, senior marketing director of the alliance.
Wireless chipmakers Broadcom and Atheros are both working on solutions that could be incorporated into the alliance’s security certification. While each company’s approach differs somewhat in its user interface, they both reduce the act of setting up security to a few easy steps. In August, the alliance is expected to announce the final security certification, which could include elements of each type of security technology, says Hanley.
One simplified interface relies on pushing a single button on both the wireless router and connecting device while the configuration process goes on in the background. Broadcom, a member of the Wi-Fi Alliance, has developed its security technology based on this push-button solution.