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1/17/2006
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Security Concerns Mount For Wireless Networks

Security is top-of-mind for businesses managing wireless networks, especially as they start adding new applications, such as voice over IP. Meru Networks' new offering scrambles malicious code at the radio-frequency signal level.

Meru Networks plans to offer in March an intrusion detection and prevention system that secures wireless local-area networks by scanning for intrusions at the radio-frequency signal layer.

Meru's Security Services Module scrambles the signals and jams the transmission of malicious code coming via rogue access points or other means, says the company. The system scans for threats without disruption while networks are transmitting data and voice packets.

The module is software-based and doesn’t require any hardware additions. Intrusion detection and prevention systems for wireless networks from other vendors often require an overlay of specialized sensors that scan radio-frequency signals for attacks. Meru’s module, priced at $2,500, is designed to be affordable for small and medium-sized businesses.

Security is a top concern for businesses and organizations deploying or managing wireless networks, especially as they start adding new applications, such as voice over IP. Radio frequency level security can prevent intruders from listening in on voice packets that travel over wireless networks or injecting bad packets that confuse the phone system and wreak havoc. "Voice, as well as video, will be the new applications,” says Songwu Lu, a professor in the computer sciences department at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has tested Meru's wireless access points and controller in his research and graduate courses. “For them, rogue access point detection and location privacy is the key," he says.

The San Antonio Community Hospital is using Trapeze Network's RingMaster management software to monitor rogue access points on its wireless network. The 400,000-square-foot hospital has installed about 250 Trapeze access points, which use two radios: One for handling user traffic and the other for scanning. "It lets us know if there's any attempts to connect to our network with unauthorized equipment," says Irv Hoff, the hospital's manager of converged networks.

Hoff says past challenges include the access points shutting off every five seconds during security scans. But the newer version of Trapeze's software solves that problem by designating specific radios to do the scans.

The hospital plans to implement voice-over-IP onto its wireless network so that doctors can communicate with other physicians outside the hospital for referrals and consults. It’s evaluating cordless phones from Nortel and wireless network badges, that physicians would wear, speak and listen through, from Vocera Communications. Says Hoff, "We now feel comfortable to deploy voice because we've locked down our wireless security."

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