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Start-up ups ante on Wi-Fi security

AirMagnet is one of the first Wi-Fi intrusion detection companies to offer the ability to block and disable rogue users.

AirMagnet is taking intrusion detection and prevention a step further in the wireless local area network market with a new version of its software that can block and disable rogue users.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based start-up on Monday announced AirMagnet Distributed 4.0. Prior versions of the AirMagnet software could detect unauthorized access to the network and report the intrusion to network administrators. The new software will actually be able to block and disable devices that should not have access to the network. AirMagnet is one of the first Wi-Fi intrusion detection and prevention companies to add this capability to its product.

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The product uses remote sensors to continually monitor the air and analyze wireless traffic to develop a detailed profile of all wireless devices within radio range. These sensors determine whether wireless devices are approved client products, "friendly" gadgets within radio range or potentially harmful "rogue" devices. The software then either blocks the signal or locates the device and disables it. It also can reconfigure the existing network infrastructure to turn off the device.

"The ability to block rogue users was one of the new features that really stood out and impressed me," said Wai Sing Lee, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "This is a key feature, as wireless LANs are deployed in more densely populated buildings. It will help keep interference from other LANs under control."

The number of companies using Wi-Fi for network access is relatively low today, but that's expected to change over the next few years, as Wi-Fi technology improves. According to research company IDC, 55,000 new Wi-Fi hot spots will be installed in the next five years. Hot spots are public places that give people wireless access.

A key issue for companies using . The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is already working on tougher security specifications for Wi-Fi, such as 802.11i.

One of the biggest security concerns is keeping hackers or other unauthorized users off the network. Because Wi-Fi transmits radio signals through the air, unauthorized users or devices could gain access to the network by tapping into these frequencies. As a result, administrators need to be able to monitor the network and detect unauthorized access. And as more hot spots are packed into the same geographic area, it will become increasingly important to control interference from other wireless access devices.

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Several companies, including AirMagnet, have been selling intrusion detection and prevention products to address this market. Other start-ups, such as AirDefense, Fluke and Network Chemistry, have developed tools similar to AirMagnet's solution. Last year, IBM launched a service to handle intrusion detection and prevention. So far, AirMagnet is one of the first to block rogue signals and disable unauthorized devices. Most solutions only alert administrators to a problem.

AirMagnet added several other new features to its software, including a new Wi-Fi "dashboard" that shows the health and safety of a customer's wireless network at a glance. The dashboard includes advanced, drill-down tools to better identify problems. AirMagnet has also added new policy management capabilities to help network administrators tailor policies for different portions of their network. And it has added new alarm capabilities.

The new software is available now. More than 18 customers are already using it, including the Naval Postgraduate School, based in Monterey, Calif. The AirMagnet Distributed intrusion detection and prevention product starts at $7,995 and includes a management console, server software and four sensors.