The wireless networking industry is being hamstrung by a myth that it is peddling an insecure product, according to a principal analyst at Gartner.
Speaking at NetEvents in Montreux Andy Rolfe said that, for all the high profile news about the potential for drive-by hackings, he is yet to see an actual case reported.
"Most of the issues surrounding wireless local area network [Lan] security disregard the security facilities that are available today. At Gartner, our advice to our end user clients is that wireless Lans can safely be deployed today using an end-to-end virtual private network," he said.
It is claimed that wireless Lan signals can be intercepted and, with the right equipment, hacked.
"This is where most reported hacks have taken place, but they have not really been serious because all sensible enterprises secure their systems with firewalls and multiple password levels," explained Rolfe. "In this way, all the hackers can get is free internet access. That is really the extent of the problem so far."
He maintained that the industry had publicly debated the security issues around wireless Lans in a confusing way and had alienated potential purchasers.
"The argument must be moved on so that we begin to advise and guide potential end users about how they can secure their wireless Lans and select the right solution for their particular environment," said Rofle.
In a panel discussion that followed, members agreed that the technology was largely as secure as any other style of networking. The issue was that many companies did not switch the security features on or have adequate authentication procedures in place.
Nick Hallwood, enterprise manager at 3Com, pointed out that very few companies have effective single sign-on systems which would help to solve the problem.
"The ultimate solution would be to produce something that is centrally controlled for enterprises. This could be brought under the control of the information systems department," he said, adding that the only real solution to make wireless secure was to set it up outside the firewall.
"At 3Com we deploy our own wireless Lans in the same way that we recommend our customers to do it, i.e. outside a firewall. Then we require our own users to tunnel in through the firewall to the corporate network," explained Hallwood.
Mario Maas, business manager at Agere Systems, insisted that wireless Lans should be introduced according to standards, but said that it is important to consider the applications (enterprise, home internet access etc.) for which very different solutions are required.
"We think that people need to be educated about Lans, which is something that the vendors need to put on their plate in order to gain maximum security for their systems," he concluded.
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