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?

Testing The Services

I tested each of the three services under Windows XP SP2 and the two non-proprietary client services with Mac OS X 10.3.9. I used a Linksys WRT54G, one of the world’s bestselling Wi-Fi gateways, and an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station. Both were upgraded to the latest firmware.

WSC Guard performed best, probably because they control the client software, making it much simpler to ensure that everything goes right the first time out. I ran their installer software and tried to configure the Linksys WRT54G. The software nicely informed me that my firmware was out of date--which it was, by a year. I installed the new firmware, rebooted the router, and WSC Guard configured it. In a few minutes, I was up and running with their secured connection, which hides the 802.1X transaction and other network details.

SecureMyWiFi took a little more effort because I discovered a bug in the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station I used to test it. The RADIUS shared secret, which is used to authenticate an access point to a RADIUS server, triggered a flaw in the AirPort Admin Utility, the standard tool used to configure Apple base stations. The shared secret could only be entered using AirPort Management Tools, a separate piece of software because the shared secret is set by SecureMyWiFi and unchangeable. The company is looking into the AirPort problem, which I have reported to Apple, but about which I never received a response.

Once the base station was configured, however, I was easily able to make PEAP and EAP-TTLS connections from both platforms. The type of secured EAP can be changed via Web site administration.

BoxedWireless.com uniquely offers EAP-TLS support, which is terrific for the most secure and least-effort transactions in which a digital certificate replaces login credentials. Their system can generate these certificates, which can then be downloaded and installed under Windows, Mac OS X, and any platform that can handle certificate management.

I tried both EAP-TLS and PEAP under Mac OS X with no problems. But under Windows XP SP2, things were trickier. It took quite a lot of back and forth with the service’s operator, who was quite responsive, before we were able to get Windows XP SP2 (two different installations) to work with BoxedWireless.com. The operator said that no other Windows XP users had had problems like mine. While I was unable to nail down the particular problem, it seems as if it might be particular to my installation.

Recommendations

For mixed networks of Windows and other platforms, WiTopia’s SecureMyWiFi and BoxedWireless are both interesting and competitive offerings. Those who need the highest-level of individual security and want to avoid passwords should choose EAP-TLS from BoxedWireless. I find WiTopia’s administrative interface slightly easier to work with than BoxedWireless, but WiTopia’s doesn’t allow an administrator to change the shared secret, which was a small but key difficulty with one of the access points I tested.

For Windows-only networks, WSC Guard costs more but offers a more robust secure network with its fallback to local security in the event of an Internet outage.

SecureMyWiFi; Witopia, www.witopia.net; "One year of free service for one AP and up to five users; additional APs are $10/year each; additional blocks of five users are $5/year per block per year."

BoxedWireless; BoxedWireless; www.boxedwireless.com; 1-10 users: $24 per month or $268 per year; additional users typically range between $2 and $3 per user per month.

WSCGuard; McAfee; www.wscguard.com; $4.45 per user per month for up to five users; $3.99 per month for five or more users.

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