Windows XP to Support 802.1x Wireless Network Standard

Microsoft announced Monday that Windows XP will support the new 802.1x wireless network standard beginning with Beta 2, which the company delivered to testers on Monday. Microsoft added that Windows XP Home Edition and Windows XP Professional will support 802.1x as part of the OS. The company expects to release Windows XP in the second half of 2001.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published the 10th draft of the new standard on January 16, 2001. The 802.1x standard defines port-based network access control for wireless networks and enables large-scale deployment of secure wireless and wired networks by defining ways for centralized authentication and dynamic key management to work across products made by different manufacturers.

In addition to Microsoft, several other vendors support the 802.1x standard, including Cisco, Compaq, Dell, 3Com, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard. Tom Werner, vice president and general manager at 3Com Corporation said, "3Com has worked very closely with Microsoft on developing the 802.1x standard and we are excited that Microsoft has adopted it as the Wireless Security standard in Windows XP. The 802.1x standard provides wireless users with a simple and secure form of authentication and authorization that complements 3Com's current security solutions."

Security of wireless networks is a major concern. In February 2001, we reported that scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, released a report detailing several security problems in the 802.11 standard's Wireless Equivalent Privacy (WEP) technology. The scientists found that intruders can successfully launch at least four types of attacks against wireless LANs that use WEP encryption.

Nonetheless, leaders in the wireless industry recognize the need for data privacy. Stephen Saltzman, general manager of Intel's Wireless LAN Operation, said, "As wireless networking grows in popularity, customers need to know that confidential information remains private, even as it travels through the air. By working together, the leading companies in this industry have developed a standards-based approach to security that helps protect data without sacrificing the flexibility afforded by wireless mobility." According to Microsoft, Windows XP will feature a "zero configuration" interface for 802.1x technology that automatically handles the necessary security settings and updates these settings as a user roams from LAN to LAN or connection point to connection point.

Bill Rossi, general manager for Cisco Systems' wireless networking business unit, said that Cisco's Aironet product, which is widely deployed at Microsoft’s campus, is the first product to ship with support for the 802.1x draft standard. However, although 802.1x addresses most of the concerns that the University of California scientists expressed, Rossi also said the 802.1x standard still lacks strong data encryption capabilities.

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