The wireless security solution WirelessWall was first launched back in 2001 by developer Cranite Systems. California-based TLC-Chamonix acquired WirelessWall in June of 2008, expanding the solution to cover wired as well as wireless infrastructure—which, as company CEO Ed Smith points out, now makes the name WirelessWall something of a misnomer.
The overall focus for WirelessWall, Smith says, is on keeping things both simple and effective. “Literally, you install a piece of software in one device, install another piece of software in another device—and everything in between, over the wireless, as well as the wired portion of a network, is secured, voice, video, data… everything,” he says.
Jeff Pittges, now a professor at Virginia’s Radford University, was Cranite Systems’ vice president of engineering. From the beginning, Pittges says, WirelessWall’s key strength came down to the fact that it encrypts data at Layer 2. “The current technology was encrypting at Layer 3… so they were encrypting the contents, but they were leaving the address exposed,” he says.
With that level of security, Cranite’s best customers proved to be in the military–and WirelessWall, Pittges says, was deployed a few years ago in Iraq. “As they were taking tanks and other kinds of weaponry off the ships, they were using handheld scanners,” he says. “Our WirelessWall product was on the handheld scanner, and was encrypting all of that data wirelessly back to the server.”
In order to do so, WirelessWall went through FIPS 140-2 certification. “It was a very expensive and time-consuming process,” Pittges says. “I would estimate that Cranite as a company, during the six years that I was familiar with the company, probably spent a million dollars and thousands of hours to complete FIPS certification of the product.”
And that investment, Pittges says, ultimately crippled Cranite. “The bottom line is that Cranite turned out to be a technology company instead of a product company, and they just never could figure out how to bring that technology to market… so they cut their losses about 18 months later and shut the company down, and that’s when [TLC-Chamonix] was fortunate enough to buy the rights to WirelessWall,” he says.
A key benefit of that transaction for TLC-Chamonix, Pittges says, was the potential to lower the price for WirelessWall itself. “[CEO Ed Smith] got a very low price tag when he purchased it—so all of the money that went into the FIPS certification, he reaped the benefits of all of that… and so, with the rebirth of the product, he’s actually in a position to sell it at a competitive price,” he says.
One way TLC-Chamonix is now expanding its potential market is by helping retailers comply with PCI DSS requirements [PDF file]. “We’ve aligned ourselves with point of sale vendors and some applications groups in the retail space to address how WirelessWall can meet the security requirements of PCI… and do that more cost-effectively than hardware replacement,” says company CTO Phil Smith.
The idea, Smith says, is to take advantage of WirelessWall’s unique flexibility in order to meet the demands of a wide variety of different markets. “It’s media-agnostic, and it supports multiple vendors… we can secure wireless, 3G, LAN—but the idea is that we bring the IEEE Robust Security Networks model to all of those without focusing on the radio-specific aspects of it,” he says.
And that comes back to the strengths inherent in the simple fact of encrypting at Layer 2. “By securing at Layer 2, you’re reducing the total cost of ownership, the complexity… and plugging a lot of potential security holes that you have at Layer 3, by having blanket security that covers a variety of services,” Smith says.
The result, Smith says, is greatly simplified security. “You don’t have to have specific application-level secure solutions, you don’t have to have selective use of things like SSL or IPSEC, and you don’t have the complexity of a lot of those protocols,” he says. “So you’re able to provide users with complete privacy and you don’t have to worry about that being a pick-and-choose kind of capability.”
One of TLC-Chamonix’s newest customers is TransactPOS, a provider of point-of-sale solutions for hardware stores. “The stores we go into are mom-and-pop shops, with five to maybe 50 employees,” says company sales manager Jim Love. “It’s your dad’s place that you grew up in, it’s continued to grow, and now you’ve got maybe 15 employees… and on top of that business model now has come PCI compliance.”
And so, Love says, his company’s greatest challenge lies in providing WPA2 Enterprise level security on everything from POS handhelds to wireless printers. “WirelessWall sounds almost too good to be true, because I can cover old-style WEP equipment…and not only cover the wireless side, but also potentially the wired side, with greater than WPA2 Enterprise level security,” he says. “Why would you not do that?”
Love says TransactPOS has already begun working with WirelessWall software, and is currently testing its POS handhelds at TLC-Chamonix’s labs. “[It’s] a solution that’s very reasonable in cost, can be easily deployed at these small retailers, and covers the wireless side and the wired side without a doubt… and we’re done—for the whole process,” he says.
Jeff Goldman is a freelance writer based in Southern California. He is a frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet.