Is Wi-Fi Too Sci-Fi?
What the world needs now are simpler, user-friendly security features in consumer Wi-Fi equipment, according to a new Wi-Fi market update from ABI Research. "Ease of Use: the Consumer Wi-Fi Security Challenge" reports that Wi-Fi security schemes are too difficult, so most users give up before securing their wireless connections.
"Awareness of security issues is becoming widespread [with] the average consumer," says Sam Lucero, senior analyst of wireless connectivity research with ABI Research, in a statement accompanying the report. "The complexity of existing security mechanisms is frustrating to many, but they regard it as a problem they just can't solve."
The complexity comes from bringing together different systems on a Wi-Fi network. The devices handle security slightly differently, says Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst. "Basic Wi-Fi security isn't all that difficult, but as more people come online [with wireless connections], they're not as familiar with how to make it secure. They're just happy to get it working."
Kagan explains that the first people to use Wi-Fi were more tech savvy, so they were better able to follow the necessary steps to add security features. However, as Wi-Fi penetrates the mass market more, it is reaching more and more people who have less of a technical background. There are exceptions, according to ABI: In 2004, equipment vendor Buffalo Technology introduced its patented AirStation One-touch Secure Setup (AOSS). A customer using an AOSS-enabled wireless router can simply push a button on the router, then one on the AOSS-enabled client device, and the two devices will connect using the highest level of security common to both devices.
The more people start using Wi-Fi, the more critical security becomes. "You can go to apartment buildings in New York City, turn on Wi-Fi, and find eight to 15 different connections," Kagan says. Most won't have security turned on. Those without security risk exposing information on the users' hard drives, and can also compromise bandwidth as unauthorized users piggyback on the authorized connections.
"Simpler security solutions won't necessarily give their creators a big competitive advantage," Lucero says in the report. "But once the Wi-Fi Alliance settles on a standard, most if not all vendors will adopt it. For everyone's benefit, the industry as a whole should set aside competitive considerations and move as expeditiously as possible to get a security standard in place."
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