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Mobility, Flexibility, and Security: O'Reilly Author Tackles the Promises and Pitfalls of Wireless Networks

May 7, 2002

Sebastopol, CA--802.11 technology goes by a variety of names, depending on who is talking about it. Some people call it wireless Ethernet to emphasize its shared lineage with traditional wired Ethernet. Wi-Fi, from wireless fidelity, is another popular name, referring to a certification program run by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA). Any "wireless" vendor can have its product tested for interoperability, and equipment that passes can use the Wi-Fi mark. But those who work hands-on with the technology call it simply 802.11. In his new book, 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide (O'Reilly, US $44.95), author Matthew S. Gast delves into the intricacies of wireless networks, revealing how 802.11 technology can be a practical and even liberating choice for businesses, homes, and organizations. At the same time, he leads the reader through all aspects of planning, deploying, and maintaining a wireless network, and covers the security issues unique to this type of network.

The adoption of 802.11 wireless technology is moving at an explosive rate. With transfer speeds of up to 11 Mbps, it's the fastest practical wireless technology approved by the FCC for low-power unlicensed use. The obvious advantage of wireless technology is mobility--it frees users from the tether of an Ethernet cable at a desk. Wireless networks also offer flexibility, which translates into rapid deployment--adding a new user to a wireless network does not involve running cables, punching down terminals, and patching in a new jack. "802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide" covers everything the reader will need to know to understand and use this technology.

"Using new network technology always requires a balance between theory and practice," says Gast. "The theory helps you design the network and troubleshoot the equipment when it breaks, but it is not always helpful when you have a piece of equipment that implements one vendor's view of the world. Most books will tell either how the standard works or how to use a specific piece of equipment or software. In this book, I have tried to weave together both the theory and the practical sides of the matter."

"802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide" discusses how the 802.11 protocols work, with a view towards understanding which options are available and troubleshooting problems that arise. It contains an extensive discussion of wireless security issues, including the problems with the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) standard and a look at the 802.1x security standard. Since network monitoring is essential to any serious network administrator, and commercial packet sniffers for wireless applications are scarce and expensive, the book shows how to create a wireless packet sniffer from a Linux system and open source software.

"802.11 is popular because of the advantages you get from allowing workers to be mobile," Gast says. "Over the past year or two, though, it has become increasingly clear that 802.11 networks are vulnerable to attackers if they are deployed incorrectly. I have tried to keep up-to-date with the security issues so that my book would both describe the security problems and help network administrators deal with them. Right now, 802.11 is hot technology. But the industry seems to have realized that without adequate security, it's not going to be successful. The immediate problem facing most readers is how to deploy 802.11 securely."

Gast adds, "The next problem will be network-layer mobility. 802.11 is successful because it allows users to roam around while maintaining continuous network connectivity. In many organizations, wireless LANs are starting small. Given time, however, the wireless LANs will be viewed as very important network infrastructure, and the question will be how networkers can tie together these small packets of connectivity."

802.11 has enabled mobility over single network segments, Gast explains, each of which is like a little island of connectivity. Providing network-layer mobility will be a challenge in the future, because not every network can be redesigned to accommodate new network segments just for wireless tools. It's possible that network design constraints may result in disjointed islands of connectivity. "In those cases," notes Gast, "it will be necessary to find a way to build in greater mobility to connect the little islands of connectivity."

Gast tackles these issues and many more in his book. "802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide" also looks forward to the newest developments in wireless networks, including the two new 54 Mbps standards: 802.11z and 802.11g. It surveys other efforts moving through the standards track, including work to facilitate mobility between access points, quality of service, spectrum management, and power controls.

"802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide" shows readers how to configure wireless cards and Linux, Windows, and OS X systems. Written for the serious system or network administrator who is responsible for deploying or maintaining a wireless network, this book is truly the definitive guide on wireless networking.

Online resources:

802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guide
By Matthew Gast
ISBN 0-596-00183-5, 443 pages, $44.95 (US), $69.95 (CAN)
1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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