RealTime IT News

Linksys Provides Hosted 802.1X

Cisco's Linksys division is targeting security conscious wireless network administrators in SOHO and SMB offices with a new service.

Called Linksys Wireless Guard, it provides a hosted RADIUS server so end users can utilize RADIUS-based 802.1X authentication to get secure access to their network -- no extra RADIUS server is needed on site.

The service is a version of the WSC Guard service from Wireless Security Corp. (WSC).

While anyone with a wireless network can sign up to use WSC Guard to get some extra authentication assurance, Stu Elefant, spokesman for WSC, says the difference here is that "this is now an out of the box solution. Someone can go into Fry's, or Best Buy, or an e-tailer and buy the Linksys WAP54G... and use the setup wizard [to activate the service]."

Linksys spells out the steps for using Wireless Guard: Every system will run the wizard on the enclosed CD (or can download the software from the Linksys Web site) to get the necessary 802.1X supplicant software. When trying to connect to the wireless network, the user will be asked for a username and password each time. The access point will check the user credentials against the list stored back on the authentication database -- this is done over the Internet. The list is created by the person in charge of the network. If they match, the user can get on the network. If not, the user gets the boot and the network administrator is signaled to an intrusion detection.

One difference with WSC over other 802.1X systems is that you can retain access if the Internet connection -- and thus the path to authentication -- goes down.

"Most 802.1X systems would just bump you off," says Ulrich Wiedmann, WSC's vice president of software development. "It's [usually] an on/off situation."

The Linksys Wireless Guard service is currently only going to be built into the Linksys Wireless-G Access Point, model WAP54G -- the company's top seller to businesses, according to spokesperson Karen Sohl. She says that 40% of Linksys customers are businesses.

Whether the Wireless Guard service will migrate to other Linksys products is still under consideration. The company also wouldn't speculate on building in other security features such as the Secure EZ Setup that chipmaker Broadcom is offering to customers, of which Linksys is one.

The WSC Guard hosted RADIUS service that Wireless Guard is based on is compatible with other vendors, but only the WAP54G will have the Linksys-specific version. It will come out of the box with access to setup the service through the router's interface.

Wireless Guard has a cost per end user of $4.95 per month, with discounts going down to $3.99 per user per month with five or more users. There is a 30-day free trial.

Julie Ask, senior analyst at JupiterResearch, says her group has compiled "a lot of data that says that small companies have less secure solutions in place compared to enterprises" and that SMBs are much more likely to go with an off-the-shelf solution like this.

As for WSC's side of this, she says they have the right approach. "[It's] probably hard to sell... as a stand-alone service; better as a feature on someone else's." She feels eventually WSC will have to move beyond working with the networking hardware companies and work with computer makers and even consumer electronics manufacturers.

Those days are probably in the distance for WSC. While the terms of this deal aren't exclusive, WSC's Elefant says "We're working with the number one vendor here, so we're dedicating our efforts. You'll see on our Web site that we do work with other manufacturers, but not integrated to the level we are with Linksys."