Companies partner for unified WLAN security

Although industry observers have been trying for some time to convince users that security isn’t the monster in the wireless LAN (WLAN) closet, the message seems to be taking its time to sink in.

With that in mind, one set of companies is planning to show a secure WLAN is possible by teaming up to address and deflate these concerns in the market.

Meru Networks Inc. — a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based, large-scale wireless LAN (WLAN) infrastructure provider — and Fremont, Calif.-based iPolicy Networks, a unified network security systems provider, said they plan on delivering a platform that can respond to threats originating from WLANs by integrating iPolicy’s technology into Meru’s Controller architecture.

According to Meru, its Controller is the central engine that provides co-ordination of Meru Access Points to deliver a secure WLAN. The Controller enforces all WLAN policies including security, plug-and-play deployment, radio frequency resource management, mobility and contention management.

Under the terms of the partnership, iPolicy’s Single Pass Inspection unified security technology and central management platform will be integrated into Controller and will work as a compliment to Meru’s technology by adding protection against intrusion, virus and content security threats. As well, it will provide deep inspection (up to layer seven), firewall protection, content filtering and surveillance.

Because there is a much larger scale of devices that need to be secured with wireless as opposed to wired technology, the security perspective is very different, said Kamal Anand, vice-president of marketing and sales at Meru.

Historically there was only one wide area network connection coming in, which could be easily secured by the enterprise, he added. Organizations could stop all attacks and monitor the connection, scan the network for viruses and do firewalling at the edge; but wireless changes all that from an inside-out perspective.

“Every laptop now can be an entry point for different kinds of attacks and viruses and all kinds of intrusion capability and that’s why it is very important to protect the network at the wireless edge,” Anand noted.

Anand said that Meru had thought about developing the added security in-house, but was concerned that, as a wireless company, it wouldn’t have done as thorough a job as an outside security systems provider. That’s when the company decided to partner with iPolicy.

In a nutshell, enough is being said about the need for better security for Wi-Fi, said Manish Gupta, head of product marketing at iPolicy. He noted, however, that perhaps not much is being done even though the Wi-Fi industry has made a lot of strides in terms of the latest standards that have come out.

This announcement by Meru is one of a series the industry has seen from WLAN switch vendors that have really been tightening the screws on their security capabilities, said Richard Webb, directing analyst, WLANs, at U.K.-based Infonetics Research Inc.

Webb cites tougher security standards including Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) as a key reason why enterprises should no longer be fearful that WLANs are unsecured, adding, “it’s really a case that enterprises may need some help understanding how to secure them, but the technology is there.”

Meru came late to the market compared to its competition — including Cisco Systems Inc., Strix Systems Inc. and Fiberlink Communications Corp. — and had originally focused on voice over IP as opposed to security, Webb said, so its decision to introduce added security features may be a move to counteract some comments and feedback that have come its way. He noted that the company’s product is “looking like a very comprehensive solution and I think they should be applauded for that.”

Given all the security functionalities that Meru and iPolicy are, in tandem, being able to offer the enterprise for WLANs, users who are still unconvinced about wireless security should take another look “because this is the equivalent or better to security on a wired LAN,” Webb noted.

“If you’ve got those kind of features enabled on a wireless LAN, really you’ve got to say, ‘Do you honestly have all these [features] on your wired LAN?’ Because most enterprises don’t. They’ll have a firewall and a VPN, maybe they’ll do some virus protection, but they certainly don’t all do deep packet inspection, they certainly don’t do intrusion detection and prevention,” he added.

Vendors today are doing a lot in terms of securing WLANs, agreed Aaron Vance, an industry analyst at Synergy Research Group Inc. in Arizona, adding that when it comes to wireless security, much of the work being done is to make both authentication and encryption better, “but both of those have really been approached from a standards point of view.”

Taking authentication and encryption a step further, Vance noted that many vendors, including Meru and iPolicy, are offering additional capabilities in terms of firewalls, intrusion and detection.

Although Meru and iPolicy may have an uphill battle ahead of them to convince customers to choose their product, Vance said that smaller organizations sometimes have an advantage.

“I think that Meru has its work cut out for it just because there are so many incumbent networking providers that are coming into this space as well, so in terms of competition there’s a lot of other companies with better branding probably than they do. But what seems to be the case with smaller companies, [their products] are a little more feature-rich and they seem to be a little more on the cutting edge in terms of innovation for features,” Vance said.

The Meru Controller with integrated iPolicy technology will be available in Canada this summer.

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