BlueSocket: Easy, Effective, Expensive


The companys appliance encrypts traffic coming through wireless access points and authenticates users. But it does not come cheap. (Baseline)

Imagine youve just been asked to build a secure wireless local-area network in an office building. Maybe you can sniff out and eliminate rogue access points, but theres no way you can control the variety of laptops and handheld devices from which users will try to log onto your network.
Wireless-network gateways from Bluesocket and competitors are designed to solve that problem. These hardware appliances intercept all traffic passing through wireless access points and can encrypt and authenticate it. Bluesockets gateways may not be cheap—entry-level enterprise versions start at $6,000, and users say theyre still missing some features—but theyre relatively effective and easy to deploy. And the best part? Because they dont require client software they work with any laptop as well as any standard access point.
That was a big selling point for Greg Folsom, a vice president at Boston advertising agency Arnold Worldwide. Arnold settled on Cisco access points when setting up a wireless network covering the companys 10-floor main office. But he balked at replacing existing wireless cards in his users laptops with cards that could work with Ciscos security system. "Cisco cards can cost up to double what other cards cost, and we couldnt see doing that." So Folsom brought in the Bluesocket gateway, which, when linked to the companys NT domain server, could authenticate wireless users regardless of their hardware.


Some network managers, have spotted shortcomings with Bluesocket. Christopher Misra, a network analyst at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst plans to use Bluesocket because its product can accommodate a variety of wireless clients more easily than the Cisco virtual private network hes now using. But, says Misra, the Bluesocket gateway would ease the load on the schools network staff if it could be managed using the universitys existing network-management software. Blue-socket executives say theyre working on that.
Eventually, wireless-network access-point vendors may agree on a strong security standard. When they and laptop and chip vendors widely support that standard, wireless security may no longer require an add-on gateway appliance. "We may end up replacing Bluesocket," says Folsom. "But we needed a solution back in June, so we rolled the dice and paid $6,000 for the Bluesocket."