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AirTight debuts proactive Wi-Fi security appliance

AirTight Networks this week will debut an appliance that detects and automatically blocks unauthorized WLAN activity. Though it's an aggressive approach, one customer explains why proactive tactics are necessary.

Making its debut in the crowded Wi-Fi security market, AirTight Networks Inc. will unveil an appliance tomorrow that detects and automatically blocks unauthorized wireless LAN activity.

SpectraGuard will help enterprises classify and eliminate wireless network threats and create an interactive Wi-Fi topography with existing building floor plan maps.

David King, chairman and CEO of AirTight, which recently changed its name from Wibhu Technologies, said that while many enterprise wireless network security products offer threat detection and notification, SpectraGuard excels in intrusion protection, mitigating potential problems instead of simply pointing them out.

"If you're alerted to something on your neighbor's wireless network every 20 seconds, you're constantly being asked to deal with alerts that aren't your problem," King said. "We don't bother you with unnecessary alerts and alarms."

King said SpectraGuard's Policy Management Server scans a customer's airspace for devices in real time. Based on each device's MAC address and advanced algorithms, it classifies them as authorized, unauthorized, or unknown or rogue. Access is automatically denied to unauthorized devices or those that are deemed as rogue or misconfigured access points, misassociated client devices, or those that belong to ad-hock networks.

Essential to the process is the Mountain View, Calif., company's dual radio 802.11 a/b/g SpectraSensors. Using integrated power over Ethernet, the mini access points based on technology from Atheros Communications Inc. are installed at various points on the company's wired network. They utilize AirTight's unique monitoring code to scan for traffic every few hundred milliseconds, ensuring a wide network of coverage without slowing down the WLAN.

AirTight's new offering is hoping to build on last year's SpectraPlan standalone mapping software, which has been added to SpectraGuard. Based on information gathered from the sensors, SpectraPlan generates a digital diagram of how a company's wireless network extends throughout its office, showing where devices are and the coverage range of access points.

King said the map can be annotated to detail different types of walls and room configurations, and quickly adjusts to changes.

"If you're supposed to have at least -90 dBm, and you only have -92 because of an eight-inch concrete wall, the tool will show you that on the map," King said. "And every few minutes it refreshes, so when you make an adjustment, it shows you the measured calibration and the map itself changes."

Competition is fierce among WLAN security add-on vendors, with AirDefense Inc., AirMagnet Inc. and others already in a fierce struggle for customers. Just last week, ReefEdge Networks Inc. announced a layoff and restructuring, citing a rapidly evolving market and Wi-Fi hardware makers eager to bolster their products with their own security features.

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However, SpectraGuard received positive reviews from Ketera Technologies Inc., an application service provider in Santa Clara, Calif. Ron Leedy, Ketera's director of managed services, said his company has been using AirTight's product for about a month to secure its 50-user 802.11g environment.

Leedy said his company is on the 11th floor of a 12-story building, and several other companies in the high rise also use WLANs. In fact, his users have accidentally connected to neighboring networks, proving just how easily authorized and unauthorized signals can be mixed together.

In addition to preventing his company's devices from seeing outside access points, Leedy said SpectraGuard has given him more control over who gains access to his network. "We don't broadcast our SSIDs, but if somebody does try to connect, we can automatically block them out," Leedy said.

Even though SpectraGuard's approach is aggressive, Leedy said the proliferation of wireless networks has forced network managers to take extra precautions. "I'd much rather apologize to someone for blocking them out then have to explain to my CEO why we got intruded upon," he said.

King said SpectraGuard can be purchased as a rack-mounted appliance or in a software-only edition. A starter kit, consisting of Policy Management Server software and two sensors, starts at $7,500. Leedy said his implementation cost about $13,000.

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