Review: Three Wi-Fi Security Providers - InformationWeek

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Review: Three Wi-Fi Security Providers

The services allow small and medium-sized businesses to secure wireless LANs using consumer-grade wireless access points. Are they any good?

Pity the small and medium-sized office. On the one hand, they -- you? -- need enterprise-class wireless LAN account management, policy enforcement and security. On the other hand, they don't have enterprise-scale IT budgets.

This last year, however, has brought a wave of outsourced services for SMBs (small-to-medium-sized businesses) designed to offer top-dollar WLAN security and infrastructure capabilities without all the dollar signs. Now, instead of paying $20,000 server software systems, smaller enterprises can pay far, far less per year, depending on the number of users and access points.

I tested three straightforward outsourced 802.1X providers. They allow a SMB with anywhere between a few employees and a few hundred to inexpensively and simply manage a secure wireless network using existing consumer-grade access points with individual accounts or even individual digital certificates.

Flavors of Outsourced 802.1X

802.1X lets a computer with appropriate client software connect to a wireless network with just enough access to prove its credentials. In the technological alphabet soup of the modern day, there are a number of ways to secure the 802.1X connection to make sure that those credentials sent via EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) messaging aren’t exposed in the clear to snoopers who could then gain access.

The most popular flavors are PEAP (Protected EAP), EAP-TLS (EAP Transport Layer Security), and EAP-TTLS (EAP Tunneled TLS). These EAP flavors are all required now for Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) certification for devices by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The three services I tested each have slightly different options based on the kind of secured EAP they support. WiTopia’s SecureMyWiFi offers Microsoft PEAP and the more generic EAP-TTLS; BoxedWireless.com has Microsoft PEAP plus EAP-TLS which uses individual digital certificates to avoid usernames and passwords, and McAfee’s WSC Guard employs its own secret sauce for creating an 802.1X connection with a fail-safe for local redundancy. (WSC was purchased by McAfee earlier this year and recently released a home security product that uses WEP, WPA Personal, and WPA2 Personal keys.)

All three services are identical in requiring you your wireless access points to connect to servers located outside your local network with which they exchange RADIUS information for 802.1X transactions.

Almost all consumer and every enterprise access point can carry out the RADIUS messaging. The one exception are the new MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) consumer routers that appear to only support plain WEP and WPA-Personal (WPA-PSK or preshared key) and not any enterprise or RADIUS flavors.

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