Wireless LAN Security Gets Beefed Up - InformationWeek

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11/7/2003
11:56 AM
David Ewalt
David Ewalt
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Wireless LAN Security Gets Beefed Up

Legra Systems offers products to handle encryption for multiple data streams

Sales of wireless LAN hardware are one of the few bright spots in the networking world. But for many business-technology managers, concerns over security and manageability continue to keep them from investing in the equipment.

That's a problem that wireless LAN startup Legra Systems Inc. set out to address when it launched just over a year ago. Last week, the company debuted its first products, a system that includes radio-access points, a switch, a management appliance, and optimization software.

What's innovative about the products is the way they handle data security. Each switch contains a separate CryptoFlex chip that can encrypt multiple data packets at once, as well as tag high-priority data streams for fast handling. In other systems, data can be encrypted only one stream at a time, which often leads to speed and performance bottlenecks.

"The reason we put Legra in was to get better security and better manageability," says David Fowler, VP of marketing at Groove Networks Inc., a provider of peer-to-peer collaborative workspaces. He says a key benefit has been the ability to handle multiple data streams with different encryptions all at once.

"We've been running most of our wireless activities outside the firewall and then VPN-ing inside the company when we need to access internal resources that aren't secured by the application," he says. "The Legra technology put us in a mode where we can actually segment. We can have guest users who are allowed access on our wireless network for outside services, and we can use technologies like WPA for security coming inside our firewall."

Legra's system also lets users upgrade the security protocols remotely by downloading and installing a patch. Other systems will require hardware upgrades to run future standards like 802.11i. A Legra customer will never have to walk out to a radio-access point, pull out a chip, and install another, something that could be a big problem if you've got 500 radios in 15 buildings, the company says.

Another unusual aspect of the system is a one-of-a-kind wireless network processor that works in conjunction with the radio's CPU to do fast encryption-key lookups for every packet, sparing the central processor that repetitive task. Other systems use whatever general-purpose CPU is in the chip and run everything off that. The system also includes an application engine, which is a CPU and hard drive running a Linux-based operating system that lets customers run back-end management applications from other vendors. Legra Manager, a network appliance, lets companies manage large wireless networks, making changes to a number of devices at once through its custom interface.

Pricing for the system will vary depending on the number of radio-access points and other factors, according to Legra. But a starter deployment of one switch and three radio-access points will be priced at around $10,000.

What differentiates Legra's system from others in the crowded wireless LAN field is the company's emphasis on flexibility, says Yankee Group analyst Sarah Kim. Customers will benefit from the ability to easily upgrade to new security standards and add applications, even from third-party providers. "What they're doing is looking into the future," she says. "It addresses a future need."

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