Cisco, Microsoft team up for wireless security

Cisco Systems teamed up with Microsof this week to announce the deployment of a new security standard for wireless LAN networks. Cisco said it worked with Microsoft to develop and deploy its implementation of the IEEE 802.1x and EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) security standard.

Cisco is shipping support for the 802.1x draft standard on its Cisco Aironet 350 line of 802.11b wireless LANs, company officials said.

The 802.1x draft uses standard security protocols such as EAP and Radius for centralized user identification, authentication, dynamic key management, and accounting, according to Cisco officials.

Microsoft is Cisco's largest customer for wireless LAN products, and the two companies collaborated during the product deployment to develop a standards-based security architecture, said officials from Cisco in San Jose, California.

According to analyst Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group, security of wireless LANs is a hot issue for vendors and enterprise users.

"Every major wireless LAN vendor is doing something around security," Mathias said. "It is generally acknowledged that the existing 802.11 standard is pretty weak in terms of security. [The IEEE] did very little in the original standard ... but greater levels [of security] are now possible."

"This is the first big implementation of the [802.1x] standard, but there are a lot of other approaches to the security issues in wireless LANs," Mathias said. For example, the 802.11e group is working to correct security issues with extensions to MAC layer, longer keys, and key management systems, he said.

Earlier this year, a published report from the University of California that outlined several well-known security holes in wireless LAN networks caused an increased awareness of the security pitfalls of wireless networks.

Another wireless LAN vendor, 3Com, also announced support this week for the 802.1x authentication standard, which it plans to implement in its wireless LAN systems. 3Com said it will ship 802.1x in its line of business and public access wireless LAN products once the final standard is approved by the IEEE in the second half of this year.

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