Product name: DWL-122 Wireless USB Adapter
Company name: D-Link
Price: $43

Bottom line: Compact, inexpensive, WPA-capable 802.11b adapter for WinXP

In a nutshell: This 802.11b USB stick makes it

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easy to add Wi-Fi Protected Access to WinXP desktops and laptops; can also be used with WEP on most PCs or Macs.

Pros:

  • Low-cost WPA option for WinXP PCs with non-upgradeable adapters
  • USB stick form factor is small, convenient and unobtrusive
  • D-Link client also supports Windows 2000, ME, 98 and Mac OS X

Cons:

  • Can be used with 802.11b/g APs, but only at speeds up to 11 Mbps
  • D-Link client software doesn't allow WPA to be used on non-XP platforms
  • Some trouble forming associations using D-Link client on Win2000/ME

Description: It's been over 10 months since the first Wi-Fi Protected Access products were announced by the Wi-Fi Alliance, but many users have yet to upgrade. One reason: lack of WPA-capable retail products and drivers. Although new 802.11g products often support WPA, firmware upgrades for older 802.11b products remain missing in action. Many laptops with embedded adapters and desktops with older USB adapters are stuck in limbo, awaiting WPA upgrades that may never come.

The D-Link DWL-122 Wireless USB Adapter is a relatively inexpensive way for WinXP users to upgrade from WEP to WPA. This tiny 802.11b USB stick can easily be used with most laptop and desktop PCs shipped over the past few years. To use WPA, you must download D-Link's 1.02 driver and Microsoft's WinXP WPA patch. You must also enable the Windows Zero Config service and configure parameters through the WinXP Available Networks control panel. Choose WPA-PSK authentication and enter a secret passphrase that's at least 20 hard-to-guess characters. Then choose TKIP encryption. That's all there is to it. You now have airlink security that's invulnerable to WEPcrack and other attack tools that neutralize the older WEP encryption.

WPA-PSK is fine for SOHOs, but many companies will prefer using WPA with 802.1X. To choose 802.1X, use the Authentication tab of the WinXP connection properties panel to select an EAP type and configure credentials. Your company must have an 802.1X-capable Authentication Server or subscribe to a managed 802.1X service like WSC. If your company is not ready to provide 802.1X infrastructure, WPA-PSK is still a significant improvement over WEP. Either way, using WPA requires a WPA-capable wireless Access Point.

DWL-122 drivers are also available for other Win32 and Mac OS X (10.2.x) operating systems, but the D-Link Air USB Utility does not appear to support WPA on these platforms. Nonetheless, the DWL-122 is still a convenient, low-cost 802.11b adapter for these systems, with or without WEP enabled.

I tested the DWL-122 on WinXP, Win2000, and WinME. My WinXP associations were by far the most consistent. On Win2000 and WinME, I experienced intermittent failure to associate, using profiles configured into the Air USB Utility. I was unable to pinpoint the culprit, but noticed that results were better when my AP was broadcasting its SSID in beacon frames. Your own results may vary.

The DWL-122 isn't the only 802.11b USB adapter on the market -- far from it. But it is one of just a few available in this compact stick form factor with WPA-capable firmware. If you're looking for 802.11g or WPA on other operating systems, this product isn't for you. But if you're looking for a WPA-capable adapter for WinXP, the DWL-122 can meet your needs without breaking your budget.

About the author: Lisa Phifer is vice president of Core Competence, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in network security and management technology. She is also a site expert to SearchMobileComputing.com and SearchNetworking.com.

This was first published in March 2004

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