Fla. county secures wireless

Sarasota Enterprise Information Technology Department

Cautious about the security of its wireless network, a Florida county government has installed devices in its buildings to detect and prevent wireless intrusion.

By using such devices to secure about 3 million square feet of airspace across 15 of Sarasota County’s 200 buildings, it is easier for information technology personnel to spot any unauthorized vulnerabilities or attacks on the wireless infrastructure.

“This type of government is very risk-averse,” Bob Hanson, Sarasota County’s chief information officer, said. “We minimize the risk that occurs through these devices.”

Sarasota-based Highwall Technologies installed the monitoring infrastructure about four months ago. Rich Swier, the company’s chief executive officer, said that although the benefits of wireless are obvious, it has also created a problem. Before, security personnel only had to worry about security within their facilities.

“And that’s just not the case of security today,” he said. “Now you’re having your good guys, your employees and so forth bringing in devices and exposing your network outside your four walls. It’s becoming much more obtuse on how you protect your information. The fortitude of your walls no longer applies.”

Hanson said his government has security policies in place, but with considerable employee turnover each year, it’s difficult to keep up their education. He said all they can do is have the employees read, sign and acknowledge the policy. He said there are almost 5,000 employees in the area covered, and rogue wireless access points are perplexing.

With Highwall’s technologies, Sarasota IT officials can monitor their airspace using a centralized Web-based interface. About 15 devices or sensors called Sentinels along with 30 antennas monitor the designated area in the county government.

But many federal, state and local government agencies are not ready to adopt wireless networking unless they secure their airspace, Swier said. His company assesses an organization’s airspace first because there might be different divisions who have implemented wireless networks without notifying their own IT departments.

“Infrastructure is not going to be deployed until security is guaranteed and that’s the component of the adoption cycle,” he said.

Swier said Highwall is in talks with several other state and local government agencies. He said the federal, financial and health care sectors are primary adopters of this technology. The cost of implementations such as Sarasota’s is $7,000 to $10,000, he said. He also said it takes fewer Highwall devices to cover a given area compared to his competitors, who would need to deploy more devices. Therefore, an organization’s total cost of ownership is less, he added.

Hanson said the investment is worth it for the protection. When it comes to security, he said local governments should make that a high priority.

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