Nine months ago, Todd Little sat in a cafe with his laptop and was amazed by the number of wireless networks he could see. This got the network administrator at CBK Ltd. thinking: "What could people see coming from behind CBKs walls?"
Although Little was sure his wireless networks at CBK, a wholesaler of home accents in Union City, Tenn., were secure, he decided to play it safe. He deployed AirMagnet Inc.s Distributed Starter Kit, a wireless security overlay product, to detect unauthorized intrusions and shut down rogue access points.
"I wanted a means of verifying the security settings for my wireless environment because I was amazed at the number of wireless environments I could see that one day," Little said.
While consumers cant get enough of Wi-Fi, IT managers havent been quick to deploy wireless networks in corporate settings, citing security concerns. However, like Little, those who have deployed Wi-Fi recognize the need to beef up wireless security. As a result, an increasing number of enterprises have begun to invest in corporate wireless security systems.
The wireless security market is still relatively small, generating $156 million in global revenues last year, according to research company Infonetics Research Inc., in San Jose, Calif. However, Infonetics predicts that market could reach $564 million worldwide by 2007.
CBK, a subsidiary of Blyth Inc., is among the countrys largest wholesalers of home décor, gifts and accessories. With more than 5,000 items in its product lineup, the company hosts Gift Mart trade shows in showrooms to introduce products to the marketplace. The showrooms, which are owned by CBK, are in five cities across the country, including Los Angeles and Chicago.
At three of the showrooms, Little has installed wireless networks that enable sales representatives to take orders during a trade show using Falcon 335 wireless handheld devices from PSC Inc. The handhelds, which run an internally developed sales automation program, connect to Cisco Systems Inc.s Aironet access points.
In addition to taking sales orders, CBK sales reps use the wireless handhelds to track more than 5,000 product SKUs. When a sales rep finishes taking an order, he or she can wirelessly transmit that data to company headquarters in Union City.
CBK has standardized on the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) protocol to secure data. "Were standardized on WEP ... until we have an overriding reason to upgrade to another wireless standard," Little said. "Weve taken some extreme measures to prevent others from jumping on our network."
As many as 70 CBK employees could be on the companys wireless networks at any time. To ensure that only CBK employees are accessing the companys wireless environment, Little deployed AirMagnets Distributed Starter Kit nine months ago. The overlay network kit, which includes central server software and four sensors, is priced starting at $7,995. Little installed the software on a server at corporate headquarters, along with one of the sensors. He placed the three other sensors in showrooms.
Using a GUI on the server, Little can access reports that, among other things, tell him whos trying to access his wireless networks, how many neighboring companies have wireless networks and whether there are rogue access points on his networks. Because CBK has dedicated frame relay connections to all its showrooms, none of this information is sent over the public Internet.
To further monitor his network, Little purchased the AirMagnet Laptop wireless analyzer, which IT personnel use to perform mobile audits on showroom floors. Little also depends on AirMagnet to perform routine troubleshooting.
The Cisco access points can process data from a limited number of handheld bar-code scanner units simultaneously.
Because overlapping wireless signals can cause a chain reaction that shuts down the entire network, Little uses AirMagnet to provide a diagnostic picture of wireless traffic.
The AirMagnet reports also enable CBK to meet security auditing and documentation requirements of regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
"With the requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley leading to us having more direct control over our entire network, AirMagnet gives us a little more to go back with to auditors to show were proactively monitoring our wireless network," Little said.
While Little said he has seen a number of unsecured wireless networks belonging to competitors, he has yet to discover rogue access points on his networks. "We run a pretty tight ship here from an IT standpoint," he said. "Even our non-IT users are fairly well-trained on what and what not to do."
Little is implementing a wireless network for CBKs warehouse. Because the warehouse is located at the companys corporate headquarters, security will continue to be a top priority.
Already, Little has used AirMagnet to resolve a security issue involving his access points. The software has also discovered a number of neighboring wireless networks used by other companies.
"Im amazed by the number of networks [in general] with no protection whatsoever," Little said.
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at email@example.com.