Meru Offers RF-Level Security
The SSM technology relies on three techniques: continuous micro-scanning, radio jamming, and transmission scrambling, all to provide enterprise WLANs with an extra layer of security beyond packet encryption.
"There are still critical gaps in WLAN security," asserts Meru director of marketing Joel Vincent. "Many enterprises are looking for a 'belt and suspenders' approach to protecting wireless transmissions. They haven't had that extra layer of security for confidential information, and so they've severely limited the deployment of WiFi or banned it completely."
As a result, many observers believe that the advent of RF-signal security technology could hasten the widespread deployment of wireless LANs in enterprises.
Jamming the signal
Essentially, the Meru technology works by monitoring and manipulating traffic on individual access points at the radio-frequency level. Meru's AirShield technology can "micro-scan" packet transmissions continuously, for only micro-seconds at a time, meaning that APs can monitor intrusions and security violations without interrupting transmissions to other APs on the network.
Once the SSM detects a rogue transmission, it can jam the rogue by blasting white noise in the channel used by the rogue every time it tries to transmit a packet. Other nodes on the network don't recognize the noise and so ignore it. Critically, the jamming technology works without affecting other traffic on the network or on other, nearby networks (which would be illegal). To preempt attacks, the SSM's antenna technology uses fine-grained, RF-level scrambling to render specific transmissions "invisible" to clients other than the specific sender and receiver.
Costing $2,500 for the most basic version, the SSM will be available beginning in the second quarter of 2006.
A complement, not a replacement
Current solutions tend to isolate rogues and shut them down at the port level, a method that can cause service disruptions and impair service quality, particularly on voice networks. Attacking the rogue AP problem at the radio-frequency level will significantly reduce these problems, says UCLA computer-science professor Songwu Lu, who has been using the SSM in his wireless-network testbed for a few months.
"With current solutions, it takes a significant amount of time to detect" a rogue, explains Lu. "Once they detect it, it takes a significant amount of overhead, in terms of bandwidth to mitigate the problem. In the best case you consume more bandwidth, which can really kill wireless voice conversations."
Because SSM works at the RF level, says Lu, it should be complementary to security technologies already available in the marketplace: "Because current solutions try to tweak transmissions at the protocol level and the system level, but not at the RF level, Meru's technology should be complementary to what other people are doing."
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung