Wireless networks give staff and customers the freedom to roam staff are no longer tied to their desks and in a customer-facing business such as a bank, wireless technology can make interaction easier, as there is no barrier, such as a PC on a desk separating the staff member from the customer.
However, wireless networks are inherently insecure. Who can forget the highly publicised one billion dollar lapse in security at US retailer TJX. In a blog posting commenting on their major security breach, security guru Bruce Scheier, said, "It seems that the credit card information was stolen by eavesdropping on wireless traffic at two Marshals stores in Miami," adding, "Retail wireless networks collect and transmit data via radio waves so information about purchases and returns can be shared between cash registers and store computers. Wireless transmissions can be intercepted by antennas, and high-power models can sometimes intercept wireless traffic from miles away."
Weak encryption was the main problem at TJX. If it had used strong Wi-Fi encryption, customers' credit cards would have remained secure. But why not prevent access to the network to prevent eavesdropping altogether. This is the problem Meru Networks has attempted to tackle.
Meru Networks has developed technology it says will protect networks from eavesdroppers. Its RF Barrier product is an IEEE 802.11-based technology which meru says will proactively defend wireless networks against eavesdroppers and "parking lot" attackers, who attempt to record and observe network traffic from outside a building's perimeter in order to steal sensitive and valuable information.
RF Barrier uses wireless local area network (Lan) technology to block the radio-frequency (RF) signals from the corporate network as they exit the building, without disrupting internal WLan operations. This limits an attacker's ability to eavesdrop on data and perform offline analysis.
RF Barrier is installed by mounting a Meru Networks wireless access point along the inside perimeter of a building, and an advanced external antenna outside the perimeter. RF Barrier technology inspects the traffic in real-time to determine which part belongs to the WLan (and is, therefore, designated as sensitive) and uses the external antenna to block outbound traffic at the RF layer. Would-be attackers are limited in their ability to see useful packet information about the internal network.
It uses directional antennas and selective enforcement technology, which Meru Networks claims does not impact wireless signals within the building or from other networks. Internal clients connect normally, with enterprise access points serving them at full speed.
US fresh produce distributor, Anthony Marano is using the technology to protect the south side of its building, which is adjacent to a carpark and busy motorway. The RF Barrier looks like a standard wireless access point with an antenna that points outwards, giving 180 degree of coverage.
The company's Nokia Wi-Fi smart phones handle sensitive voice calls as well as confidential e-mails and contact information. Chris Nowak, chief technology officer at Anthony Marano, said, "With our warehouse adjacent to an interstate highway and other major roads, no one is comfortable with blasting a Wi-Fi signal all over the place."
By using RF Barrier he said the company has been able to draw the border around the coverage area, "We can keep our infrastructure tuned to maximum power without worrying about the consequences of signal bleeding." As a result, he said, "RF Barrier dramatically reduces the risk of parking lot-type security attacks - and means we will not have to make excuses to management later."
The technology is basically jamming RF signals, says Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at Quocirca. Such technology has been used in military applications, but as far as Bamforth knows, Meru is the only company taking this approach for commercial users.
This was first published in October 2008