Security is in Wi-Fi Management’s Future

It’s one thing for a company like BlueSocket to say it’s putting an intrusion detection system (IDS) into its WLAN management platform. But it’s another thing entirely when companies are getting out of management altogether to concentrate on security. That seems to be the way the wind is blowing these days.

Take, for instance, Cirond Corporation of San Jose, Calif. Today, the company announced today that it is “shifting focus” from managing to securing wireless LANs. This is just the latest evidence of vanishing borders in the Wi-Fi industry.

“We have decided to focus the entire resources of our company and leverage our mature technologies in this space,” said Nicholas Miller, Cirond president and CEO.

Despite already being crowded with 24 WLAN security-related vendors, Wai Sing Lee, analyst with Frost & Sullivan, describes the market potential as “humungous.”

While 2002 saw the worldwide demand for Wi-Fi security at just $27 million, the sector has seen a huge jump. In 2003, demand for wireless security leaped to $104 million worldwide, according to Lee. The market for enterprise security solutions is larger than for management.

Driving the increased demand is the fruition of many companies’ tentative steps into wireless networking.

“Enterprises are finally deploying WLANs,” says Lee. The analyst says small pilot projects are maturing. Also propelling the need for security is an Oct. 11 Department of Defense deadline requiring corporations to secure their wireless networks.

Lee, who is now completing a survey of wireless security, says Cirond’s decision confirms what he’s been hearing. He expects that this year we’ll see more management functions entering security products.

For example, Bluesocket, the Burlington, Mass.-based WLAN management vendor, also announced an IDS system today, called BlueSecure. It monitors an enterprise’s WLAN, reporting security threats such as rogue Access Points and “war driving” events. It’s an additional feature of the company’s already-existing wireless gateway.

“What we’ve been doing all these years… is sell wireless gateways to secure enterprises,” says Michael Puglia, Bluesocket senior product manager. “BlueSecure will augment our current offerings.”

Lee says that while we won’t see the consolidation of wireless management and security vendors like we’ve witnessed in the semiconductor sector, distinctions are blurring. He’s “not sure we can call some of these companies true WLAN security or WLAN management companies.”

“Security shouldn’t necessarily be a solution on its own — it should be a feature of a broader management system,” says Julie Ask, a wireless analyst for Jupiter Research.

“Companies that think security is a separate, large market are going to find it increasingly difficult to make money,” says IDC analyst Stephen Elliot.

“It will be a homogenized market, with both security and management being equally important,” Elliot says. [Cirond says it will not be ignoring it’s routes in the managment side, as indicated in the original version of this story.]

But Cirond’s Miller is not questioning the move, saying, “I see management as less important than security.” He believes that “If you have one buck, you’re gonna spend it on security.”

Besides, there is “very little difference” between Cirond’s management products and the company’s security offerings, according to Miller. He claims that 99% of the computer instructions in Cirond’s AirPatrol product are in their security offering.

“Once you’ve done one, you might as well do the other,” says Miller.

Cirond’s AirSafe disables the Wi-Fi portion of a wireless laptop whenever it’s plugged into the wired network, to prevent it from being used as a hole into the corporate LAN. AirSafe also manages and standardizes security policies. Cirond’s AirPatrol alerts enterprises of wireless laptops connected to a company network.

An expected 27 million wireless-enabled laptop computers will ship this year, which “represents arguably the biggest threat to corporate security since the advent of the Internet,” according to Miller.

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