ISO rejects Chinese wireless security protocol

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) last week rejected a security protocol that was backed by some Chinese representatives as an amendment to the group’s wireless LAN standard.

ISO turned down the Chinese technology, called WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure), in voting to adopt the IEEE 802.11i security specification that was developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., according to a member of the IEEE 802.11 Working Group who asked not to be named because of working group rules.

The proposal to adopt WAPI as a standard was defeated, with eight votes in favour of the proposal and 17 against, according to a statement released by ISO. The adoption of 802.11i was approved by 24 votes in favor and three against. Voting ended on March 7.

ISO, a network of standards institute that overlooks specifications in a wide variety of fields, routinely adopts IEEE 802.11 standards and incorporates them into its body of specifications, the member said. Last week it approved 802.11i as an amendment to ISO 8802.11, its own version of the IEEE’s 802.11 standard, rejecting a Chinese proposal that WAPI be adopted instead, he said.

The Chinese government said it would continue to support WAPI and that the rejection by ISO would not affect its domestic use in China, according to an online article by China’s official Xinhua news service.

Cao Jun, general manager of IWNCOMM Co. Ltd., the company that developed the technology behind WAPI, reportedly said the ISO results are preliminary and do not mean that 802.11i has been confirmed as the ISO standard. The results of the ISO vote only become official after a meeting is held to discuss and confirm the results, Cao said, according to a report on Chinese Web portal

IWNCOMM and Cao could not be reached for comment.

The ISO ballot resolution meeting, where the results of the vote will be discussed, will take place in June, the group said.

Votes at ISO on adopting amendments to IEEE 802.11 standards normally aren’t controversial, the working group member said.

“At least in 802.11, there’s never been anyone who’s brought in a proposal that wasn’t developed in 802.11,” he said.

The IEEE approved 802.11i in 2004. China’s government at one time proposed forcing foreign companies to license WAPI, but later dropped those plans.

A document from the IEEE 802.11 Working Group indicates that resistance to incorporating WAPI into an international wireless LAN standard has grown amid concerns about secrecy, namely the use of an undisclosed algorithm in the protocol. The technology’s supporters also declined to provide working WAPI devices to non-Chinese companies, it said.

Last week, 22 Chinese companies announced the formation of a group called the WAPI Industrial Union to promote adoption of WAPI. The group claimed its protocol offers better security than 802.11i.

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