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Apple Ups the AirPort Ante

About two years after making
wireless networking affordable
for home and small
business use, Apple has introduced new versions of its AirPort wireless base
station, card, and software
. The new AirPort adds
128-bit encryption, support for America Online (AOL), a
built-in firewall, and a second Ethernet port on the base
station, as well as expanding access to up to 50 users per
base station. The products still cost $300 for the base
station and $100 for the card for each computer.

From the networking standpoint, the new AirPort’s second
Ethernet port allows the base station to share its Internet
connection with multiple computers on a wired network,
keeping the wired network separate and thus more secure.
This local network (LAN) port is a 10/100Base-T port
matching those on most of Apple’s computers, allowing for
high-speed networking. The other network port (WAN) remains
a 10Base-T port, offering up to 10 Mbps for a DSL or cable
connection.

Security-wise, Apple has improved encryption to take
advantage of the full 128-bit password capability of the
802.11b wireless networking specification. (See "Wireless
Fishbowls
" in TidBITS
592
for details on major recent security problems with
wireless networking.) Using 128-bit encryption will require
the latest AirPort card in users’ computers, or a
third-party card with 128-bit capability. The older 64-bit
encryption method is still supported to handle older cards.
Apple also features basic firewall protection in the new
AirPort, preventing unauthorized external users from
accessing network resources on your local network. Users can
also selectively enable inbound port mapping, which can
permit external access to specific services (like a Web
server) on AirPort-connected machines. The new base stations
also offer RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User
Service) support for central user access management of
multiple devices, so schools and businesses can set up a
central user list and apply it to more than one base
station, just as they do with dialup modem pools and
the like.

AOL users will now be able to connect wirelessly to their
accounts and access the Internet, but Apple says sharing the
connection among multiple simultaneous users will require
multiple AOL accounts. The company says the AOL
compatibility feature supports only the U.S. version of AOL
5.0.

The AirPort 2.0 software, also released today, supports all
old AirPort base stations and cards. The software adds AOL
compatibility to old base stations, and upgrades old cards
to 128-bit encryption. (Old base stations will still only be
able to do 40-bit encryption.) The latest software is
available for download by existing AirPort owners via
Apple’s Software Update mechanism.

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