Wireless LANs in US govt tests

Sandia National Laboratories, the US government research organisation, has begun testing wireless LANs to determine whether they...

Sandia National Laboratories, the US government research organisation, has begun testing wireless LANs to determine whether they can meet the kind of rigorous security required by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

Pace VanDevender, chief information officer at Sandia, announced that the lab has begun limited testing of wireless LANs in an isolated test bed outside secure areas because, in his view, "wireless is the wave of the future."

VanDevender said that although Sandia has banned on all wireless networks, their usefulness - particularly the ability to log on and gain access to data anywhere without the need for cabling - makes a compelling business process case.

That approach contrasts sharply with a temporary ban on wireless LANs instituted last month by another DOE lab, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The Los Alamos National Laboratory has also begun a security review of its wireless LANs, according to lab spokesman Kevin O'Rourke.

He said Los Alamos currently operates wireless LANs in three buildings located outside secure areas. Depending on how secure the LANs are found to be, "they may be eliminated," O'Rourke said.

Despite security concerns, VanDevender said in an interview that wireless LANs "make it much easier to use and share information in an ad hoc and spontaneous way." Potential new employees who are used to their college's wireless LAN infrastructure may want to work in an environment where they can be "online all the time," he said.

VanDevender also said he believes the use of campus-wide wireless LANs could eventually lead to changes in business by providing a kind of connectivity that leads to collaborative work and decision-making.

Dennis Eaton, chairman of the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance, said VanDevender's experience reflects the early adoption of wireless LANs by colleges - a move that means employers are now seeing job candidates who expect constant connectivity.

"A younger generation has grown up with this kind of technology always at its disposal," Eaton said.

VanDevender said Sandia is running a small-scale test of wireless LANs outside the labs' secure areas to better understand security issues about a network technology that has been proved to be inherently insecure.

Wireless LANs that cover entire corporate campuses, or in the case of the DOE labs, widely scattered research facilities, could "fundamentally change behaviour patterns in the way people do their business," Eaton said. But those had to be weighed against the sensitivity and security of data sent over the network.

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