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Wavelink's Wireless Lock-In

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
7/29/2002

Wavelink Corp. is the latest company to create software intended to make the 802.11 wireless LAN (WLAN) standard more secure.

The company has developed plug-ins for its Avalanche and Mobile Manager products that attempt to tackle the problem of inherently weak security in the specification, as well as the threat posed by users installing "rogue" access points in corporate networks.

Industry bodies Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) and Pass-One are also working on beefing up 802.11 security. However, as Dave Bullis, president and CEO of Wavelink points out, these standards will be incorporated in future versions of the specification and are at least a year away, whereas his company's technology can be installed on customer's legacy 802.11b setups.

"This needs to be embedded or supported by the rest of the folks in the industry," Bullis says.

Wavelink is not doing badly in getting backing for its enhanced security technology. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Symbol Technologies Inc. have spoken up in support of it -- although Cisco and Symbol tend to be supportive of anything that increases wireless security for their customers. Both are active members of WECA [ed. note: they're wecans?].

So how does Wavelink's technology work?

Existing Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) technology uses a single encryption key to protect access points -- and many papers have been written about how easy it is to crack this system. The Wavelink technology offers a simple upgrade: The systems administrator can set the system to generate new keys and rotate them at set intervals -- for instance, every 15 minutes.

The second string to Wavelink's security bow is software that is intended to stop employees from installing rogue 802.11b access points at work that could act as potential backdoors into a corporate network. This is increasingly becoming a problem, Bullis asserts, as inexpensive WLAN setups become readily available.

The software uses various methods to track wireless miscreants. If it detects an unknown "hotspot" on the network, it tries to provoke it into sending a response, alerts systems administrators, and shuts down the port to which the access point is connected.

The system also tracks traffic sent by devices on the network, so that if the access point is invisible to the network, the system can at least detect that there are "alien" devices on the network and send the admin staff a warning.

Wavelink's WEP key rotation will be sent as a software upgrade to existing customers. The rogue WLAN finder will be available in the fall. — Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
http://www.unstrung.com

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