Broadcom Adds Wi-Fi Security

Wi-Fi silicon vendor Broadcom plans to release new Wi-Fi security software that allows users to easily set up secure home wireless networks with access points from Linksys Group and devices from Hewlett-Packard, the companies are expected to announce this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Broadcom's SecureEasySetup software works with the company's Wi-Fi chips to set up secure connections between home wireless devices with a push of a button using the WPA, or Wi-Fi Protected Access, security standard, says David Cohen, senior product marketing manager for Broadcom. Linksys is expected to load the software onto its access points starting in the first quarter of this year, and HP will start shipping printers and notebooks with the software around the same time, he says.

More and more consumers are discovering the freedom of home wireless LANs, but that freedom often extends to unwanted users as well. Consumers can be easily frustrated by the series of complicated steps needed to set up secure connections around their homes, and often just decide to leave their access points wide open for any user to join their network, says Will Strauss, principal analyst with Forward Concepts in Tempe, Arizona.

SecureEasySetup will allow users to press a hard button on their Linksys access points and HP printers to activate WPA security. They will also need to download a client version of the software for their notebooks or personal digital assistants and click on a button to complete the process, Cohen says.

Access points from Buffalo Technology (USA) already allow users to set up WPA security with a push of a button on access points, wireless routers, and client devices. That feature was available in March 2004 on certain Buffalo WLAN equipment, which happen to use Broadcom's chips. Buffalo developed its own technology called AirStation One-Touch Secure System to set up the secure connection.

Required Hardware

Right now, SecureEasySetup users must have Broadcom's chips in their access points to make the software work, but the software will work with any wireless chip set in a desktop or notebook PC, Cohen says. A previous version of the software allowed users to configure secure home networks by remembering the answers to two questions they provided during the setup process, but that version only worked with access points and client devices that both used Broadcom silicon.

The new software should be especially useful for consumers who want to add devices such as gaming consoles or digital televisions to their secure wireless networks, Strauss says.

"[Security] really gets to be a problem when you've got printers and things that aren't as smart as what you're linking up to," Strauss says.

WPA security provides a stronger level of protection than WEP, or Wired Equivalency Protocol, the first generation of Wi-Fi security that is easy prey for malicious hackers. An even more secure standard called WPA2 or 802.11i was approved in 2004, but Broadcom decided to offer WPA security with the software because a far greater number of devices have been certified for that standard, Cohen says.

A software developer's kit is now available for any companies that wish to build SecureEasySetup into their products, Cohen says.

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