McAfee acquires Wireless Security

Plans to offer managed security for wireless networks

McAfee has announced it has acquired startup Wireless Security for an undisclosed sum, with the intent of making managed wireless security services a McAfee offering in the future.

“We believe there’s a tremendous market opportunity in the wi-fi space,” says McAfee senior vice president Bill Kerrigan, noting that many home wireless LAN users, as well as small to mid-sized businesses, find it hard to configure authentication and encryption security in their WLAN access points. McAfee envisions a managed service that would handle this for them remotely.

Wireless Security, co-founded by its chairman and CEO Dennis Rohan in 2002, offers subscription-based services that let customers connect computers securely to wireless networks at home or in offices through a remotely-managed authentication service.

The services, based on 802.1x and the Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) specification, typically cost US$45 (NZ$65) per year, based on pricing available on the company’s website. Wireless Security also has products, including client software, for WLAN security administration.

The Wireless Security technology, which also supports the Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol, WPA-PSK, can work with most network cards. It’s also said to support WLAN routers from Linksys, D-Link and Netgear, and supports some devices from Buffalo, Belkin, Proxim, ZyTel and 3Com.

Kerrigan says McAfee intends to integrate the Wireless Security software into its own security software, such as its antivirus software, as well as offer the WLAN security management software as a stand-alone product, combined with a service. “For the consumer, McAfee would offer one-click security,” Kerrigan says.

Some analysts expressed scepticism that consumers, even though they may be befuddled about setting up WLAN security at home, would be willing to pay an annual subscription to have this done for them.

“The residential user is not going to do this,” says Craig Mathias, principal at the consultancy Farpoint Group, which focuses on wireless and mobile technologies. However, the small-business market might be more receptive to the idea of managed WLAN security, Mathias says. “They value security and this may appeal to them.” He says there appeared to be very few managed security services oriented toward WLANs in this way.

Kerrigan says Wireless Security doesn’t have a large customer base at present but McAfee is confident that providing remote WLAN security services will be a growth market. “We can provide this from our network operations centres, where we have several other services as well, such as antivirus updates,” Kerrigan says. McAfee has not yet set pricing on its envisioned WLAN security service.

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