Image: Wi-Fi Alliance

If there’s one theme that keeps reappearing on this blog, it’s that our Internet keeps getting faster. While the first hardware supporting Wi-Fi 6 and the improved WPA3 security is slowly becoming available, the experts are already busy planning for a newer version, which we assume will be called Wi-Fi 7.

So, what can we look forward to? Of course, Wi-Fi 7 will bring another improvement in transmission speed, up to the point where Wi-Fi would become a serious alternative for the Ethernet cables still found in many homes and businesses.

More interestingly, the IEEE is looking at ways to use the radio signals to detect people moving around their rooms. This could have many useful applications: imagine your smart lights turning on and off automatically, when you walk around your home. Or think of an app that warns you if your grandmother hasn’t moved from the bedroom all day. Useful, but also a little scary when considering your privacy: the radio frequency signals would be sensitive enough to even detect your breathing!

Another area of interest is communication between vehicles, to help support self-driving cars. This is an up and coming market, which helps explain why the people behind 5G have also been looking at providing technology in this area.

Now, if they could just get around to standardizing the prononciation. Still not sure whether it’s Wai-Fai or Wee-Fee, but you could let me know in the comments below

Today is women’s day and in the wake of the many horrifying stories we’ve been hearing from the #MeToo movement, it seems like a good time to reflect on our implicit or explicit assumptions about gender, and how they are affecting our work, life and relationships.

As this blog is mostly about networking (and just very slightly about gender dynamics), I’d like to take the opportunity to share the story of the 1940s Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr. In her days, she was mostly appreciated for looking incredibly sexy, while her scientific achievements attracted little attention.

Meanwhile, she was in fact one of the people that pioneered frequency hopping spread spectrum technology: a way to transmit a wireless signal while rapidly switching between frequency channels. This makes it harder to intercept the signal and also reduces interference with other sources.

The idea, during World War II, was intended to help allied submarines launch radio-controlled missiles, in a way the Germans wouldn’t be able to detect or jam. Still, Hedy was told she’d best help the war effort as a pin-up girl, cheering on the troops.

Eventually, her invention turned out to be a foundational building block, upon which modern communication technologies like WiFi and Bluetooth are constructed.

Bombshell is the documentary about Hedy Lamarr’s life. I’m hoping to catch it one of these days.


Image: Wi-Fi Alliance

Wi-Fi alliance introduced a new version of Wi-Fi security that should become available in 2018, called WPA3.

A little bit of history: wireless signals are particularly vulnerable to people who want to listen in on your communication, or even manipulate it. As the signal travels freely through the air, anyone in the general vicinity can pick it up, really.

The first attempt at securing Wi-Fi was called WEP.  It didn’t last long. WEP encryption was implemented in such a way that encryption codes were reused periodically. A hacker could just eavesdrop for a while, record the conversation and then crunch the numbers, looking for similarities. As the guys in this video show, getting the password can be done in minutes.

New security measures were introduced: first WPA, then WPA2. You may have been told to configure your home router to use WPA2 and that’s still solid advice! Some vulnerabilities in WPA2 have popped up, but unless your password is 12345 or secret, WPA2 can still be considered secure for all practical purposes.

However: a large group of Internet users were left out in the cold! What if you happen to run a restaurant, cafe, bus service or airport and want to provide free Wi-Fi as a service to your customers?  You could either protect your network with WPA2, and be bothered constantly by people asking you for the Wi-Fi password. Or, you could just make it an open hotspot. People could connect a lot more easily, but the downside is that their communication will not be protected against those with bad intentions. If your customers get hacked on your network… well, that’s not a good show.

WPA3 promises improvement by offering individualized data encryption in open networks. Furthermore, it should make it easier to connect IoT devices to your network and finally it will even help you out if you did, in fact, choose 12345 to be your password!

There is some good news for your WiFi network as well: especially if you’re tired of slow connections, or if your WiFi connection hardly reaches the attic. Mesh networks are becoming more popular and you can usually tell when a new technology is catching on, when the big names get involved. Google recently announced they will start selling their mesh routers in the Netherlands.

So, what are the benefits of mesh technology? Instead of a single router having to cover your entire home (and competing with the neighbours’ access point), your WiFi could be provided by a network of routers set up in different rooms. They will work together to automatically create the best connections throughout your home and select the best WiFi channels to use in each location. Sounds promising!

Mathy Vanhoef,
Image: Mathy Vanhoef

The news that has a lot of networking people worried right now, is that of the KRACK attack. Why is this such a big deal? Until now, we’ve believed our wireless networks were secure and protected, using the WPA2 encryption standard.

Earlier standards for wireless security had their problems: for example, it’s quite easy for a hacker to recover the password you use to secure your WiFi when using WEP for protection. This video needs just 4.5 minutes to explain how. It’s successor, WPA, also had flaws. Until now, WPA2 was believed to be secure. This new attack changes that…

WPA2 is not as easily exploited as earlier standards: hackers will not be able to retrieve your password, but they may break in to your communication, stealing or manipuling your sensitive information. Wired explains how this works.

You too, are likely to be vulnerable. So what can you do? Not much right now, unfortunately. Wait for the manufacturer of your router, phone, tablet or smart fridge to issue an update, and make sure to install it as soon as you can!

If you’re looking for a little more info: this video has an in-depth explananation of how the KRACK attack works. Or you could check the paper by Mathy Vanhoef, the Belgian researcher to discover this vulnerability.