Meru Networks plans radio-jamming product for wireless LANs

Meru Networks’ electronic warfare-style radio scrambling and jamming technology for wireless local-area networks is a new approach to security that other vendors will probably mimic, according to one industry analyst.

Last week, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Meru, which manufacturers equipment that routes Internet Protocol telephony traffic over 802.11-based wireless LAN equipment, said it plans to ship the Security Services Module for its wireless LAN controllers some time during the second quarter of this calendar year.

The module is comprised of software that users would load on to Meru controllers running its proprietary System Director operating system, and would allow access points to scan individual packets and radio channels for security violations without interrupting their own transmissions.

When it finds “rogue” access points – those installed either by hackers or by users without the permission of the IT department – it will jam their transmissions using technology similar to that used by the military for electronic warfare.

“Radio jamming is just a more efficient rogue mitigation technique,” said Joel Vincent, Meru’s marketing director.

Joel Conover, principal analyst for enterprise infrastructure at San Diego-based Current Analysis Inc., agreed.

“The more time you spend on the network shutting down rogues, the less time you’ve got for real traffic,” he said. “Meru, who’s focused on making voice work on the wireless network, is making the strong assertion that most of the other technologies out there are not going to leave enough time to effectively do voice over IP.”

Although the micro-scanning feature is designed for voice networks, Vincent said radio jamming is a means of making the network more secure for both voice and data.

Meru’s jamming technology is designed to ensure packets from rogue access points are never detected by the wireless LAN, and rogue transmissions appear only as white noise to the APs the user is supposed to access.

Most current wireless LAN security technologies involve encryption and authentication technologies, such as wired equivalent privacy (WEP) or Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)

Conover is not aware of any vendors other than Meru working on radio scanning and jamming technology.

“Nobody’s really approaching the problem from this angle,” he said. “It’s nice to see a small company to some real innovation. At the end of the day, these guys will probably get copies by the industry.”

Vincent said the Security Service Module is not a substitute for WPA but an additional security measure that protects the network at the radiofrequency level.

Initial interest was from the armed forces, other government users with sensitive information and health care organizations with sensitive patient data, Vincent said.

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