3Com boosts wireless LAN security

Whether it's a cell phone, PDA or 802.11b LAN, security can be a major sticking point for any user thinking of moving to wireless technology.

3Com claims to change that. The company recently announced a new product that will provide 802.11b, 11M bit/sec wireless LAN users with VPN-like data encryption and security.

3Com's Superstack II Router 400 - to be released this fall - will provide secure, encrypted network access in a wireless LAN, supporting up to 256 wireless clients per router.

"Security will always be a problem when you have signals traveling through the air," says Rick Bilodeau, marketing director of 3Com's wireless products division.

"Most of the products out there for wireless LAN security have involved using the Layer 2 access control method and Layer 2 data encrypting" Bilodeau says. "This really manages the access control problem at the wrong layer. You're managing devices, not users."

The Router 400 sits between wireless LAN clients running Windows 9X or NT and the wired network infrastructure, and can be connected to a Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service (RADIUS) server for user authentication.

According to Bilodeau, wireless users log on to a wired network through the Router 400 and are authenticated to the network through the RADIUS server. Once authenticated, the Router 400 establishes a Layer 3 encrypted tunnel between itself and the client using 128-bit Microsoft Point-to-Point Encryption software, which is inherent in the Windows operating system.

Because the authentication and encryption are based in Level 3, wireless client management is simplified - instead of setting up both user/password and hardware security for wireless clients, access can be set solely on users' network identity.

Michael McPeck, director of respiratory care and biomedical engineering at University Medical Center in Stony Brook, N.Y., was involved in the rollout of his hospital's wireless network of Symbol handheld devices and Citrix thin client software. Although he is not a 3Com user, he applauds any effort to beef up wireless LAN security.

"We're constantly making steps to increase overall security of the entire network," McPeck says. "I think particularly in the healthcare industry we need to consider more stringent measures to keep hackers and information thieves out all the time."

Doctors at Stony Brook use wireless handheld devices to quickly access patient information. McPeck says while there have been no problems with wireless data security so far, he would like to see a higher level of security than the Layer 2, device-level based security the hospital currently has for its wireless network.

The Superstack II Router 400 is compatible with any standard 802.11-based wireless network interface card and access point hardware and will cost around $US5,200.

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