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China battles rejection of Wi-Fi encryption algorithm

American technology unfairly favored over Chinese standard for fixing Wi-Fi security loopholes, China's news agency says.
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor and  Marguerite Reardon, Contributor

The rejection of China's Wi-Fi encryption algorithm has sparked allegations of foul play.

The Standardization Administration of China, a group promoting China's wireless encryption standard, accused the U.S.-based engineering group Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) of conspiracy and unethical behavior on Monday, according to reports by the Xinhua News Agency, China's official news agency.

The accusation was made in an appeal to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), based in Geneva, to reconsider its March decision to reject China's encryption technology known as WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure) in favor of the American IEEE's 802.11i encryption standard.

In its appeal, the Chinese standards body said the IEEE didn't follow ethical and procedural rules set by ISO when national bodies voted on the new technology, which will fix security loopholes in the Wi-Fi standard, according to Xinhua.

Wireless encryption helps protect Internet users' privacy while they are surfing the Net or sending e-mail over wireless networks by making the data that travels the network unreadable to unauthorized devices. Most Wi-Fi products are already equipped with some encryption technology, most notably Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) encryption. But stronger encryption methods are needed since hackers have already found ways to circumvent WEP.

Back in March, it was reported that WAPI was rejected by ISO because China refused to disclose some details of the technology. This meant that ISO members weren't able to guarantee that WAPI did not allow backdoor access to encrypted material.

The IEEE's 802.11i encryption standard is backed by Wi-Fi chip leader Intel.

WAPI was supported by just 32 percent of ISO members. In the same voting session, 802.11i was backed by 89 percent of those who voted.

A representative for ISO confirmed on Tuesday that the group had "received information" from the Standardization Administration of China following March's voting, and that ISO had replied to SAC last week.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London, and CNET News.com's Marguerite Reardon reported from New York.

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