New Tools for Instant Wireless Networks

There’s no doubting the convenience of wireless networks. Their flexibility and ease has made them both the joy and the bane of network administrators. But those very same administrators may have a new tool for configuring and securing their wireless efforts, if research from the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) finds its way into commercial products.

The computer science group at PARC has developed technology it hopes will allow network administrators to quickly deploy wireless systems without compromising security. The research resulted from PARC’s decision to use digital certificates for communication between wireless devices inside the lab. While highly secure, the devices would often take hours to get up and running. So researchers developed "gesture-directed automatic configuration." The technique permits two devices?say a laptop and a wireless access point?to identify each other and automatically configure a secure channel in less than a minute.

The technology uses a secondary channel, such as infrared, for initial communication between the devices. Using this channel, the systems exchange configuration information?including certificates?automatically. "You can only do that if you have physical access to the access point, as infrared has a very limited range," says Glenn Durfee, a security researcher in the computer science lab at PARC. And infrared isn’t the only option. PARC is working on other solutions, from audio signals to USB tokens, that would work as well. For enterprises, users could bring unconfigured devices to an "enrollment station" (such as a specially configured access point or PC) in a secure location where the process could quickly take place.

PARC is currently seeking partners for licensing the technology, though it could not provide any details about when commercial products might become available. You can find more information by visiting www.parc.com and searching for "network in a box." (For a more complete description of the instant-network process, see "Instant Networking," www.cio.com/printlinks.)

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