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12/28/2004
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Startup Markets Wireless-Security Paint

Tiny Force Field Wireless is selling paint laced with aluminum and copper that it claims will keep wireless-network traffic within company walls.

A small startup in Silicon Valley has an anti-intrusion tool that sells for $69 a gallon--you supply the brush.

Force Field Wireless makes three products that it says can dramatically reduce the leakage of wireless signals from a room or building. The company's sales manager, Harold Wray, co-developed DefendAir Radio Shield latex paint, which contains copper filings and an aluminum compound. When spread evenly on a wall, the paint reflects signals in frequencies from 100 MHz to 5 GHz. Paint four walls, a floor, and a ceiling, and you effectively have a Faraday cage, which is a specially constructed metal room that blocks all radio signals in or out, suitable for a CIA director or a determined shut-in.

"It was my concept along with my colleague, Diane Lopez," says Wray, a former network engineer with Networks Associates. "We knew of people inundated with interference on their wireless systems. In fact, Diane, in her apartment, could find eight wireless networks around her. She needed to shield herself."

Pete Lindstrom, research director at Spire Security, says the idea is intriguing. It's for people who have a "mid- to high level of comfort with wireless," Lindstrom says. "The really security conscious are going to ban wireless altogether."

DefendAir is nontoxic, contains no lead, and meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, Wray says. Besides the paint, Force Field sells 32 ounces of a copper/aluminum powder that homeowners can add to their own paint for $34. The company also makes a window film that cuts down on signal leakage: A 30-inch-by-25-foot roll is priced at $45.

"This wouldn't be the first thing I'd do to secure a network," says Spire Security's Lindstrom. "But in a crowded environment, in an office complex, it might be a thing to do." It's better to implement a solid authentication/encryption system, he says.

Force Field's Wray says sales are going well. A paint manufacturer delivers 100 gallons once every two months or so, and the paint was sold out last quarter. Businesses make up the bulk of Force Field's customers, but Wray is pushing hard to win over consumers and looking at government sales, too.

"Businesses--particularly commercial real-estate developers--see an immediate need for it," he says.

Indeed, 71% of those responding to InformationWeek Research's Outlook report for the fourth quarter of '04 say they plan to implement network-security-management apps. Sixty percent say they plan to deploy intrusion-detection software, and 42% plan to fire up wireless IP-based apps.

"Consider [radio-frequency identification], where not only are we talking about wireless networking but the whole value of RFID is the message emanating from the tags," says Lindstrom. DefendAir would be an attractive option to protect an RFID-enabled warehouse, he says.

There are drawbacks to the paint. It doesn't just block wireless networks. In the home, it would block the one or two remaining TVs connected to rabbit ears. More important, it blocks mobile-phone signals. Wray suggests that businesses either paint only critical parts of buildings or introduce wireless callers to the smokers huddled around the front door.

Convincing consumers to take wireless security seriously has been harder. "They see it like tinfoil on your head," Wray says. "They think it's kind of paranoid."

Force Field has been trying to interest the Department of Homeland Security, but discussions are ongoing, Wray says. "Ironically, we have had foreign governments contact us--from the Middle East. Kind of scary." Wray says he won't sell to them.

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