Linksys Simplifies Wireless Security

A one-button setup technology that Cisco Systems' Linksys division and chip maker Broadcom developed for secure wireless LANs finally hit the market this week, as Linksys also announced a travel router that includes the technology.

The SecureEasySetup (SES) technology is designed to make it easier for consumers to set up wireless LANs with WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), a security system approved by the Wi-Fi Alliance industry group. SES consists of firmware for routers and access points, as well as a software utility for client devices such as PC Card adapters.

Users will be able to set up a WPA wireless LAN by simply clicking a software button in the setup utility and pressing a physical button that has been built in to routers and access points since earlier this year in preparation for SES, says Mani Dhillon, senior manager of product marketing at Linksys. Previously, users had to manually set up and enter an SSID (Service Set Identifier) and an encryption key and write them down for safekeeping, a series of steps that many customers found too hard, Dhillon says.

Security Concerns

Lack of security has dogged consumer wireless LANs, partly because many users never even set up the systems that come with the gear. Last month, a man was arrested in Florida on charges that he parked outside a home with an unsecured wireless LAN and used it to take advantage of the resident's high-speed Internet connection.

Linksys worked on SES with Broadcom, which supplies the chips in Linksys's wireless routers and some of its client adapters. It was announced in January at the International Consumer Electronics Show, at which time a Broadcom executive said Linksys was expected to put the technology onto its devices in the first quarter.

Broadcom's projection was overly aggressive, maybe because the company didn't know all the steps involved in the introduction, Dhillon says. Linksys had to make SecureEasySetup work on non-Broadcom devices, provide firmware for older products and wait for retail stores to sell out of devices that were made before the hardware button was built in, he says.

The technology is now shipping with all of Linksys's Wireless-G and SpeedBooster routers and adapters, and the company is offering firmware upgrades for routers and access points dating back about two years, Dhillon said. Users of routers that shipped with the hardware button can now download new firmware and use the button, and with other routers a software button can be added to the device's software interface, he says. Within the next few weeks, Linksys will ship a Wireless-G Access Point with SecureEasySetup, according to the company.

Linksys also is providing software for Hewlett-Packard notebook PCs that have built-in Wi-Fi adapters, and it will also offer the software for an HP Wi-Fi printer that is expected to ship by the end of this year, Dhillon says. The company is seeking similar arrangements with other PC makers, he says.

WPA is an improvement on the original WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) protocol that shipped with early Wi-Fi gear. Linksys has started to roll out the latest security technology, WPA2, across its router line, Dhillon says. Routers equipped for WPA2 are backward compatible with WPA, and WPA products can be upgraded through a firmware download, he says.

Also Available

Also Monday, Linksys announced the Wireless-G Travel Router with SpeedBooster. Users can plug this router into a fast Internet connection offered in a hotel room or other location and then share the link with friends or colleagues.

The router comes with an Ethernet port for a wired Internet connection such as DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem, as well as one Ethernet LAN port for use with a client that is not equipped with Wi-Fi.

Through the travel router, users can share a single Internet access account. This works even at wireless LAN hotspots, where the router can connect to the Internet over the wireless LAN and friends and colleagues can log in to the user's travel router instead of the hotspot access point, Linksys said. The router, called the Linksys WTR54GS, is available immediately through Linksys resellers and has an estimated street price of $99.99.

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