A Refreshed AirPort from Apple

My Practical Mac column in today's Seattle Times walks through the revisions to Apple 2-year-old-plus AirPort wireless networking system, released last week. The revision adds support for direct-dialing AOL (useful to millions of Mac dial-up customers), improves aspects of security, supports faster Ethernet, and connects the Base Station and its related AirPort Card to back-end authentication systems used in institutions.

AirPort is compatible with 802.11b or Wi-Fi networking, and Apple's revision makes it even more so by supporting standard authentication tools (RADIUS, Cisco LEAP), 100 Mbps-only Ethernet networks (through a 10/100 Mpbs autosense port), and longer WEP encryption keys. Apple also told me that they were actively following the issues surrounding 802.11g development (a faster version of 802.11b that will be backwards compatible, but support raw speeds up to nearly five times faster).

The support for 128-bit long WEP encryption keys used for network data encryption is long overdue, if only as a way for Mac users to join supposedly safer PC-based networks. (WEP encryption has been definitively broken, and the longer key only adds linear, not geometric or exponential, calculation time using publicly available cracking software.)