N+I: Security concerns can make wireless the forbidden fruit

Security concerns can make wireless the forbidden fruit.

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ATLANTA -- Dan Nemec, an application engineering manager with the business-to-business e-commerce company Inovis, is more than interested in wireless. He wants to have wireless systems integrated throughout the company's headquarters and regional offices. But at Atlanta-based Inovis, wireless is forbidden.

"I'd love to be able to take my laptop to a meeting with me," he said. "But our director of security forbids wireless systems."

He is worried about the security complications and vulnerabilities that adding a wireless local area network (wLAN) can cause.

Nemec and his co-worker, Kai Jendrian, were scouring the floor at the NetWorld+Interop conference Tuesday hoping to come up with ways to convince their security director that wireless can be safe.

They are likely to find plenty to work with. After years of security concerns about 802.11b networks, companies are falling over each other to introduce new ways to make these networks secure.

New wireless technology announced

At this year's show there are half a dozen or more companies offering wireless security solutions, including ReefEdge Inc., Symbol Technologies Inc., Intermec Technologies Corp., Fortress Technologies Inc. and Bluesocket Inc. Many of them are announcing products at this year's show.

Tom Dowd, principal product manager with Everett, Wash.-based Intermec, said the slew of security products for wLAN has been driven in part by a misguided impression that putting up a wireless network is akin to giving away your data to anyone passing by on the street.

While maintaining that security is important, he said it is more important for a company to understand its security needs before chasing after a solution. A rural corn processor will have very different security needs than an urban e-commerce company that keeps consumer credit card information on hand, or a government contractor that has direct links to sensitive government sites on its network.

At the show, Intermec announced its highest-level security product yet in a partnership with Tampa, Fla.-based Fortress Technologies. The AirFortress is the first product to receive the government's Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) 140 certification. The product uses a triple data encryption standard to protect data.

"With a couple of supercomputers and 1,000 years, someone might crack this," said Dowd.

Intermec also offers lower levels of security coverage that involve rotating the encryption key for wired equivalent privacy (WEP). While Web tools are available that can help crackers locate wLANs and crack WEP, Dowd said rotating the key is an effective way of deterring crackers.

Also on Tuesday, Bluesocket announced it is also pursuing the FIPS 140 certification for its wireless security product. Burlington, Mass.-based Bluesocket supports the Internet protocol security standard (IPsec) and point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP) tunnels and is compatible with any device. Users can also manage their wireless networks with the Bluesocket system, allowing different levels of access based on a user's profile and location.

ReefEdge has also launched a similar product that can use a person's location to help determine the kind of access they can have to a network. At the show, Fort Lee, N.J.-based ReefEdge announced a new product that provides security for wireless voice over Internet protocol systems. It also announced an interoperability certification program with such high-profile partners such as SSH Communications Security and RSA Security.

With all the concern about the security of wireless networks and the continued interest in the technology, the wireless option continues to grow. Looking across the show floor, Nemec said, "We're just starting out; we've got plenty to learn."

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