What Is IEEE 802.11i?

The addendum to the standard that specifies the new generation of security is called IEEE 802.11i. At the time of writing, no such standard has been released, but a draft of the standard is under discussion by Task Group i of the working group. The draft is fairly complete and is unlikely to change substantially before release, but changes are certainly possible.

IEEE 802.11i defines a new type of wireless network called a robust security network (RSN). In some respects this is the same as the ordinary or WEP-based networks. However, in order to join an RSN, a wireless device has to have a number of new capabilities, as described in the following chapters. In a true RSN, the access point allows only RSN-capable mobile devices to connect and places rigorous security constraints on the process. However, because many people will want to upgrade over a period of time and use pre-RSN equipment during the upgrade, the IEEE 802.11i defines a transitional security network (TSN) in which both RSN and WEP systems can operate in parallel.

At the time of writing, no RSN-capable products are on the market. Such products cannot be released until the standard has been completed. Most existing Wi-Fi cards cannot be upgraded to RSN because the cryptographic operations required are not supported by the hardware and are beyond the capability of software upgrades. Therefore it will be some time before full RSN networks become operational. By contrast, WPA networks can be implemented immediately.

    Part II: The Design of Wi-Fi Security