Yesterday, Microsoft posted a Windows XP update that gives the OS a new, more reliable, standards-based wireless security technology called Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). The WPA solution will eventually replace the current solution, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), a broken and insecure data-encryption and -authentication technology that's installed on millions of Wi-Fi (802.11b wireless standard) routers, gateways, NICs, and PCs worldwide.
"Customers tell us the wireless experience with Windows XP represents a huge leap forward in terms of ease of use," said Jawad Khaki, corporate vice president of Windows Networking and Communications Technologies. "Yet, even with these enhancements, many IT managers are hesitant to enable wireless connectivity in their organizations due to security concerns. With standards-based Wi-Fi Protected Access, customers can have more confidence their data will be safer and more secure."
More confidence, perhaps, but WPA won't do XP users any good until all their Wi-Fi hardware supports the technology. If your Wi-Fi gateway supports only WEP, for example, upgrading XP to support WPA won't help. However, seeing Microsoft adopt wireless security standards early for a change is nice: The company didn't require any sort of wireless security when it released XP in October 2001; Microsoft fixed this situation in the XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) update, which requires XP users to jump through a few hoops to access a non-WEP-enabled wireless network. Microsoft says it will build WPA support into XP SP2, and presumably the company's Broadband Networking products, a Wi-Fi hardware line, will also support the technology.
But as desirable as WPA is, this technology isn't the end game for wireless security. Instead, WPA is just the first step to a future, more powerful wireless standard called 802.11i that wireless hardware makers and Microsoft have pledged to adopt. The upgrade path from WPA to 802.11i should be seamless for customers, Microsoft says.