Wireless authentication standards stymie market

Lack of interoperability security and agreement on standards will continue to see a moribund market for enterprise-grade wireless LAN solutions as prospective customers resist hitching their wagons to proprietary wireless standards, says industry analyst Meta Group.

Meta's senior research analyst, infrastructure strategies, Bjarne Munch told Computerworld that as long as the likes of Cisco and Microsoft continue to push their own proprietary barrows, enterprise users will continue to stay away in droves.

"Large vendors like Cisco are promoting a complete secure wireless solution for the corporate market. That is true, but it is based on a proprietary solution that is going to lock the corporate market into a Cisco solution," Munch said.

While the likes of Cisco and Microsoft fail to agree on how to structure the authentication protocols necessary to implement enterprise-grade security beyond a VPN level, he said enterprises will continue to steer clear of larger rollouts.

"A lot of [companies] want WiFi, but they don't want to do WiFi security authentication, so they do it on a VPN solution. VPN is not as scalable, it's more expensive and it's more difficult to manage," Munch argues, adding it is highly probable Microsoft will win the authentication battle through its domination on the desktop.

"Our customers are waiting [to see what happens], so vendors are losing business right now. They are losing lots of business. Vendors could win more business long-term by agreeing rather than trying to win short-term by protecting their proprietary technology."

With enterprises delaying adoption, users increasingly bring wireless gadgets into the office, which opens up security holes. Munch asserts there is already a collision course between what users want and what enterprises need.

"You might buy your access point and install it at home, but on your work laptop. You take that into your office and you might even install [an access point] in the office. Increasingly we see rogue access points in the corporate market," he said.

Meta's advice is that prudent enterprises should immediately establish what their wireless policy is in line with their security policy and enforce it before users become addicted. Munch says the issue is far bigger than many of his clients initially admit to - leading to a rude awakening for many when offices are swept for unauthorised access points.

"We can go in one day and the client will be denying [they exist]…but if you sniff around, you'll find some of [them]. It's just going to be so pervasive [with WiFi-embedded laptops]. With Centrino embedded in the motherboard, you can't really rip it out. You are also going to see it with PDAs with WiFi. You can't deal with it without a proper policy to begin with," he said.

"The security risk is quite real and the more enterprises wait, the more it will cost to rectify it."

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