AirMagnet: Confusion Reigns in Wi-Fi Security

Remember the days when Wi-Fi was simple? Remember when a Wi-Fi network was composed of an access point, an interface card and some sort of Internet connection? Well, you can place those memories alongside eight-track tapes, vinyl records and spam that only came out of a can.

We recently sat down with Rich Mironov, vice president of marketing at AirMagnet, one of the many companies involved in securing Wi-Fi systems. Mironov, echoes other voices concerned about the future direction of Wi-Fi security and the viability of the many players. Mironov sees a Wi-Fi industry in such rapid transformation that distinctions blur, making definitions as easy as nailing jelly to a tree.

Let’s be up-front and note Mironov is selling a product — AirMagnet’s distributed WLAN management system — and valiantly attempting to ‘differentiate’ its wares from the sea of competitors.

One would think with the attention Wi-Fi security is getting and the number of high-profile products released, the issue would be on the way to being resolved. However, in late July, a new report was issued indicating confusion and complexity are the real stumbling blocks for enterprise-based wireless LANs.

“Although new standards are emerging, the complexity is still too great, forcing companies to postpone wireless LAN development,” said Chris Kozup with the META Group research firm.

Kozup points to immature standards, marketing hype and infighting among security vendors as reasons enterprises are hesitating to adopt Wi-Fi security measures he says are “complex, costly to implement, and often cumbersome to support.”

Indeed, Mironov laments that his company is “getting pounded” by customers confused over whether AirMagnet produces security, switching or Wi-Fi management services. The problem, says Mironov, is to be successful and attract money from venture capitalists, startup companies need to “sit on the fence” and attempt to do everything. The AirMagnet executive sees “a bunch of folks jumping” from the do-everything approach to the do-one thing well concept.

“We’re good with a couple things,” says Mironov. Since 2001, AirMagnet has produced Wi-Fi analyzers, or ‘sniffers’ and security software. This summer the company introduced its AirMagnet Distributed security suite allowing enterprises to sweep their wireless networks for pre-standard 802.11g devices. The software is aimed at laptops, rather than only PDAs, according to Mironov.

Mironov says 40 to 50 of the new sensors are up and running in various settings. New Zealand is testing the new Distributed system allowing Wi-Fi networks to be monitored and managed from geographically separate areas. Mironov said talks are underway with an unnamed switch company about partnering with AirMagnet.

Mironov believes the trouble with overlapping Wi-Fi products began when companies lost sight of the product history in the wired market. For wired vendors, segments of the industry are boldly delineated. Those boundaries were lost in the wireless industry.

Kozup believes by 2006, many wireless features will be adopted by the traditional wired infrastructure, removing today’s complexities, and WLANs will be viewed as simply another part of a company’s network.

Today’s Wi-Fi products, fighting for competitive survival, will simply become features in the future, believes Mironov. To prove the point, AirMagnet says traditional wired networking company Agilent Technologies has begun using the company’s wireless products in their Network Troubleshooting Center.

But in the end, Mironov says Wi-Fi will triumph for the simple reason that “wireless is irresistible.”

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