Vendors push Wi-Fi intrusion detection
- By Bob Brewin
- Dec 12, 2004
As the popularity of wireless
local-area networks (LANs) continues to grow, vendors are adopting various approaches to help commercial and government systems sniff out and detect hackers and rogue wireless access points.
Officials at Cisco Systems signed a technology partnership last month with officials from AirDefense to integrate AirDefense's wireless intrusion-detection capabilities with Cisco's wireless access points and wireless management software.
Meanwhile, officials at Full Mesh Networks, a start-up company based in Reston, Va., are offering a managed service approach to both wireless networking and intrusion detection. The company's wireless security service can save customers from buying hardware or devoting information technology employees to wireless intrusion detection, said Bill Bullock, Full Mesh's president and co-founder.
AirDefense's product uses a system of sensors to sniff the 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands for hackers and rogue access points. The company's server software analyzes information gathered by the sensors and notifies administrators about vulnerabilities. Rogue access points are unauthorized devices installed on an agency or corporate network.
The software automates wireless sniffing and scanning and allows systems administrators to automatically shut down rogue devices once they are detected.
Under the agreement with AirDefense, customers will be able to use Cisco access points, including the company's new Aironet 1130AG and 1230AG, as sensors instead of being limited to the AirDefense sniffers, said Shripati Acharya, director of wireless product management at Cisco.
Acharya added that the AirDefense server can be easily accessed with Cisco's Wireless LAN Solution Engine management software, giving systems administrators one tool they can use for both wireless management and intrusion detection. Depending on building size and the number of users, the ratio of access points to sensors could run from one to five up to one to 10, he said.
Jay Chaudhry, chairman and co-founder of AirDefense, said he views the partnership with Cisco as beneficial for his company and users because Cisco dominates the enterprise wireless market. AirDefense sells a server that can support between 200 and 250 sensors and 2,000 to 2,500 access points for about $7,000, Chaudhry said.
He added that resellers would package and sell Cisco access points and the AirDefense server together. AirDefense federal resellers include DigitalNet, acquired last month by BAE Systems. Computer Sciences Corp., which has installed AirDefense systems at the company's federal-sector division in Falls Church, Va., also offers AirDefense products to government users.
Chaudhry said agency officials must not underestimate the threat of rogue access points. AirDefense has about 350 customers, 30 percent of which are in the federal government, and every month, each customer detects at least a half-dozen rogue access points in their facilities.
J.D. Fluckiger, computer protection program manager at the Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., said he routinely detects and shuts down rogue access points at the facility.
To introduce unauthorized devices, users simply buy a consumer access point and plug it into the wall.
Fluckiger said he helped arrange the first meeting between Cisco and AirDefense officials, because he did not want to buy, install and support two wireless networks: one for the AirDefense sensors, which are barebones access points, and another access point network for data based on Cisco products.
Now that the two companies have formed a partnership, Fluckiger said he intends to install a joint Cisco/AirDefense wireless system.
Coverage for 1 million users
Full Mesh officials offer customers preconfigured access points from either Cisco or Proxim. The access points provide security based on the 802.11i standard, which secures data with the tough federal Advanced Encryption Standard.
Data from the access points used as sensors is sent from a customer's facility to the Full Mesh data center in Herndon, Va., which runs intrusion-detection software from Red-M Communications, based in Buckinghamshire, England.
At the data center, technicians monitor for intrusions 24 hours a day, Bullock said.
Once a customer buys the access point hardware, Full Mesh charges $1 to $2 per user per month for the company's managed security service, a cost Bullock said can't be beat with a straight hardware purchase and in-house support.
The company, which signed its first customer in January and has 10 today, is designed for growth, he said. Its data center, equipped with high-end servers from Sun Microsystems, can provide wireless security coverage for 1 million end users, Bullock added.
He said he believes the market for such a service will grow parallel to the spread of rogue devices and hacking tools. He described hackers as increasingly sophisticated.
Open-source sniffing software includes tools that enable hackers to automatically mount dictionary attacks against wireless systems. That should raise national security concerns and trouble anyone housing valuable intellectual property on data networks accessed by wireless LANs, Bullock said.
Encryption from the ground up
Cisco Systems recently introduced new wireless access points designed from the ground up to provide the level of encryption demanded for use on federal networks.
Shripati Acharya, director of wireless product management at Cisco, said the new line of access points include "hardware-accelerated" Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) software, which meets Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2, a requirement for wireless networks at federal agencies.
The AES algorithm is so complex that running it on software would slow down an access point, Acharya said.
Cisco's new Aironet 1130AG access point is designed for office use and provides dual-band operation in the 2.4 GHz and
5 GHz bands. It supports 802.11a/b/g wireless standards. Access points built to the 802.11a standard have a data rate of 54 megabits/sec in the 5 GHz band. The 802.11b standard has a data rate of 11 megabits/sec in the 2.4 GHz band, and the 802.11g standard has a data rate of 54 megabits/sec in the
2.4 GHz band.
The price for the 1130AG is $699, only $100 more than the price of a single-band Cisco Aironet 1100.
Cisco's new Aironet 1230AG access point is ruggedized for outdoor operations in a wide temperature range and has the same internal components as the 1130AG, providing dual-band and tri-standard-based operation. The 1230AG costs $999, $100 more than the single-band Aironet 1200.
— Bob Brewin