NEW YORK -- Though most wireless local area network security flaws have been fixed, security and radio frequency interference fears are still slowing corporate wireless deployments, said members of a panel at the 2003 TechXNY conference.
Companies are resisting wireless LANs because of security concerns, said Steve Skibinski, manager of strategic technologies for Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker Intel Corp. But manufacturers and industry trade groups have largely addressed those concerns.
The previously dominant wireless LAN security standard, Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), is easily cracked. A new security protocol, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), rotates the encryption key, making it very hard to crack.
Additionally, the panel noted that a new, much tougher security protocol, known as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), is on the way. And there are a number of other means of authentication available as well.
"Don't let fear of the unknown stop your users from getting productivity gains from wireless," Skibinski said.
Nonetheless, users remain skeptical. Attendee Alan Zausner, a principal with the consulting firm Industrial Evolution, in Reinbeck, N.Y., said that his large corporate customers are interested in wireless technology but have only pilot projects in their offices.
He said that, even though companies are reluctant to use wireless technology in day-to-day business, many are aggressively trying to develop plans to use ad hoc wireless communications networks during disasters, such as a temporary network in a hotel or backup office.
Small businesses also have concerns about how to deploy wireless networks in a way that is not only simple enough for them to manage but which is also secure, said attendee Duane White, owner of the Bronx, N.Y., consultancy DV White Troubleshooters, which specializes in small business consulting.
But, again, there are numerous steps small businesses can take to ensure a basic level of security, said panelist Ron Sperano, director of mobile market development with IBM Corp. The most important and easiest step is to stop any access points from broadcasting their name. If the hacker does not know the name of the network, that prevents him from simply roaming into it. Though WEP is flawed, Sperano said, it still does provide another level of security and is worth using.
If a business has a few dozen workers or fewer, Sperano said, he recommends changing the WEP key every few months. Also, IT administrators can restrict network access using MAC addresses.
Another concern for those who have implemented wireless networks is interference, especially among small businesses in densely populated New York City, where buildings may hold hundreds of offices.
"People are worried that they will roam onto the networks from the office upstairs," White said.
While 802.11b networks are susceptible to interference problems, they run on the crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum along with microwaves, cordless phones and Bluetooth. This is not yet a serious problem in most places, Sperano said, but over time it will be an increasing problem.
Eventually, Sperano said, most large corporations will move to 802.11a, which not only is on a different frequency used by fewer devices than 802.11b, but which also has many more channels to choose from.
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