How Cisco combines wireless, video and security

Wireless networks have caused security concerns for some time, but executives from Cisco Systems Inc. say when used properly they can actually improve security.

At its Networkers Conference last week in Toronto, Cisco officials said combining wireless and video on the same network can help companies relying on surveillance equipment.

Sean Ginevan, Cisco Canada’s marketing manager for mobility solutions, said the San Jose, Calif.-based network equipment manufacturer is working on a “proof of concept” whereby someone on a university campus, for example, could call for help using a mobile device over the campus wireless network.

“Say a girl on campus felt unsafe and she wanted to go and get somebody dispatched to her. She could use that application to go through and register her location within the network,” Gineven said. He added the information on the person’s mobile device could be sent to a surveillance application and in turn tell the camera operator to point the camera at the person, and if necessary alert a security guard.

Ginevan made his remarks to an audience of 30 at a session titled “Enabling Mobile Service Through Cisco Motion,” at Networkers, held at the Toronto Congress Centre.

About 2,000 Cisco employees, vendors and IT managers attended the conference and hundreds more participated using video feeds from 10 other locations in Canada, a Cisco spokesperson said.

During the keynote session, company officials in Winnipeg demonstrated a video surveillance scenario through a Telepresence feed. In the demonstration, a security officer hears gunfire and zooms a remote-controlled surveillance camera on to a suspicious person. The feed from the surveillance camera was then connected to an IP phone and a patroller’s wireless device.

Concerns over wireless security attracted at least one IT manager to Networkers. Aaron Lindemann, systems analyst at Lutherwood, a Waterloo, Ont.-based non-profit social services agency, said his organization uses wireless access points – primarily 802.11g – for staff and visitors.

“Security is top priority for us,” he said, adding that’s the main reason he attended a Networkers session on design guidelines for high performance, secure wireless.

Wireless security is also important for any company that processes, stores or transmits credit card information, said Terri Quinn, leader of Cisco’s compliance solutions marketing team, at a session on Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance.

She noted the PCI Data Security Standard requires any companies operating wireless networks protected only by Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), within the scope of PCI, to decommission their WEP networks by June 30, 2010.

WEP, which war drivers can break in less than a minute, is much less secure than Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). Quinn noted the credit card numbers obtained by hackers during the breach of TJX Companies four years ago and first disclosed in 2007, were compromised due to a wireless security hole.

Quinn said the 11 men charged in the TJX breach got the credit card information through war driving which “is not exactly the most sophisticated way of breaking in.” The 11 were in their 20s, did not know each other, most did not have a university degree and most spent, rather than saved, the money they stole through credit card fraud.

“They liked the parties, they liked driving nice cars and they didn’t save any of the money. It was all gone, except for one gentlemen who was saving the money under his mattress. They weren’t the Einsteins of the world,” she said.

Any company that processes, stores or transmits on Visa, MasterCard, American Express, JCB or Discover credit cards must comply with PCI DSS, which was last updated in October, Quinn said, meaning this does not only apply to retailers.

For example, companies that allow customers to pay their bills or use their credit cards to guarantee reservations would also be required to comply.

Other speakers at Networkers included Dean Prevost, president of MTS Allstream’s enterprise solutions division, and Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada.

During his keynote address, Kawale said Cisco has 12,000 people in 70 countries working from home, using products such as Cisco’s WebEx.

“We know the technology isn’t complicated,” he said. “It’s broadband access, it’s collaboration tools, it’s VPN. It’s dramatically changed the way I work and changed my work-life balance. I enjoy my job more.”

Prevost said MTS Allstream has 600 employees working from outside the office now, and predicts that number will increase to 750 by the end of the year. As a result, he said, Allstream will use 23,500 fewer square feet of office space, which should save the company $5 million.

Despite the recession, Kawale said the job prospects for network managers are good, especially those with business savvy.

“I’m seeing my third downturn at Cisco, and there is an inevitable upturn,” he said. “You need to plan for that, not just for today. We’re not doing any large layoffs. We want to be there with the right staff, with the right quantity of staff when the upturn comes.”

He described technologies such as Telepresence and the Unified Computing System, announced in March, as “changing the game.”

UCS, which includes the B-Series blade server, is intended to combine virtualization, networking and computing.

“The whole concept of Cisco getting into this market might have been quite foreign to people, but we firmly believe the data centre is a market that’s in transition,” Kawale said. “We’re trying to disrupt.”