Wireless security product may boost university coffers

Licensing agreement expected this week

A University of Auckland invention for securing wireless LANs against bandwidth hijackers is about to be commercialised.

UniServices, which manages the university’s commercial research, is expected to sign a licensing agreement this week with a UK company that has a New Zealand subsidiary. The university won’t name the business partner till the contract is signed.

The device, which will be launched in New Zealand within the next three months, uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) used by the US military.

It was invented by Abbas Bigdeli with the help of two students, Ankit Sharma and Simon Graham, who have since graduated.

Bigdeli left Iran in 1996 to do graduate studies in Australia and relocated to New Zealand in 2000. “I had come here for a trip and fell in love with the place,” he says.

He took a position at the university as a lecturer, specialising in embedded systems core research.

“The device will be low-cost, suitable for use on all existing computer systems, and will not compromise network performance,” he says. “It also gets around most of the problems that exist with current security measures for wireless LANs, which are more open to hacking that some users may suspect.”

The invention is a black box that plugs into the wireless LAN access point.

Bigdeli says it will be ideal for those wishing to add a powerful security bridge to their current wireless lans. There is no need to replace any existing componentry, such as network cards, he says.

“It works by encrypting information from a computer/server on the wired side of the network to the access point and acts in reverse with information received from the access point.”.

He says it will provide an alternative to security measures such as WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy), WPA (Wi-fi Protected Access) and virtual private networks, which are complex and costly for small businesses and home users to implement.

“WEP is extremely vulnerable to decryption, and WPA can use up significant processing power, which has the effect of killing network performance,” he says. “Most existing systems, and even some currently being sold, cannot receive the WPA upgraded software.”

He says the product has around a five-year window of opportunity in the security market because of a lack of agreement about the introduction of new standards and the uncertainty around legacy standards.

Pricing has yet to be determined but he expects the device to cost less than $1,000.

Bigdeli is now working on hardware based virus protection for high-speed networks, using the same principles. He has constructed a simple prototype and says a working prototype should be ready in a few months.

UniServices earned $62.5 million in revenue last year and made 43 new patent filings.

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