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Apple Boost AirPort Security, Features

Software programmers at Apple released the latest iteration of its wireless networking solution, AirPort 2.0, Tuesday, sporting new security and compatibility enhancements.

The free download enhancement is part of the software company's strategy to spur growth in its wireless networking hub, which is ideal for schools and businesses as it removes much of the cost needed to provide a network connection.

Philip Schiller, Apple vice president of worldwide product marketing, said the AirPort's compatibility with America Online -- the first wireless local area network (WLAN) solution for AOL users to date -- is only one of the many improvements to its software package.

"The tremendous success of AirPort over the last two years has made Apple the leader in wireless networking,'' Schiller said. "Now we're adding another industry first with support for American Online and great new security features like a built-in firewall and 128-bit encryption."

The following software and hardware enhancements boost Apple's wireless local area networking (WLAN) device:
  • Firewall protection to prevent unauthorized access.
  • RADIUS support that lets schools and businesses manage the base station at one point. .
  • Support for 128-bit data encryption. .
  • 10/100BASE-T port for LAN connections .
  • Incorporation of Cisco System Inc.'s lightweight efficient application protocol (LEAP) to prevent hackers from "piggybacking" onto a wireless Internet connection.

In addition to AOL, EarthLink (the second-largest ISP in the nation behind AOL) has been AirPort-compatible for more than a year.

While a spokesperson at AOL said they don't release the number of subscribers by operating system (OS), it's a given that with more than 26 million U.S. AOL subscribers, more than a few of them use the popular Mac OS standard on their computer.

The service is available with AOL 5.0 only but will be compatible with AOL for Mac OS X, which is expected to launch later this year. AirPort is already compatible with AOL for Mac OS 9.

The AirPort base station is a football-shaped device connected to the Internet and planted at a central location. Using the 802.11b wireless protocol standard, Apple techs said up to 50 people could connect at speeds up to 11Mbps from a distance of 150 feet. With an Apple computer running the AirPort administration, PC users can also get a wireless Internet connection.

Pricing for the AirPort base station is about the norm for a wireless hub, at about $299. The PC card runs at $99.