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Harris Secures Spooks

Harris Corp. (NYSE: HRS) has snagged a five-year, $41.6 million deal from the National Security Agency (NSA) to supply its SecNet secure WLAN technology to the federal government and approved customers.

The firm is supplying an "indefinite" amount of SecNet 54 802.11a/b/g radios equipped with an approved (type 1) encryption module. Harris says that these can be used for "top secret" voice, video and data communications.

The vendor expects the technology to be used for large military programs such as the U.S. Army's Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program and the Air Force's Combat Information Transportation Systems.

Harris is not a name widely associated with wireless LAN security. It has, however, been supplying the government with secure WiFi cards for a while, winning a $23 million contract for its 802.11b-based products in July 2004.

"They've been selling radios to the government for something like 40 years," notes Craig Mathias, analyst at the Farpoint Group . "You don't expect them to buy from a commercial supplier do you?"

Naturally, the firm and the government are cagey on the hows and whys of secure government WiFi communication. Security wonks on the Web, however, have suggested in the past that it is typically cheaper to buy WiFi-based encryption nodes, than NSA wired connecters: SecNet 11 "cards cost $2,770 each. That's [30 times the cost of a] commercial WiFi card, but cheaper than traditional NSA encryption data products which seem to run around $5K per node."

The initial 802.11b products are said to have used an NSA encryption algorithm called "BATON." It is not clear if that has changed with the new products.

Clearly, Harris has been working with the government on this project for a while. The NSA certification process alone can take a couple of years.

It is instructive to consider how fast attitudes to WiFi government use of WiFi has changed. It was only back in January 2002 that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), part of the U.S. Department of Energy, banned the use of WiFi in unsecured areas of its facility.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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