Staff at Toshiba New Zealand’s head office in Auckland began using a wireless LAN based on equipment from US firm Orinoco, rebadged under the Toshiba name, nine months ago.
“We were selling that product and thought ‘let’s put a wireless LAN together’,” says technical manager Ian Westlake.
The 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, networks proved a complementary resource, he says. “We use it as an ad hoc network tool – it’s very useful to be able to move into the boardroom and take your notebook, without having to drag wires in there.”
The wireless LAN comes in particularly handy when Toshiba colleagues from overseas visit and don’t even have to reconfigure their notebooks for New Zealand, Westlake says. “When they come in, they can start working right away.”
However, convenience must be balanced with security.
Toshiba addresses security at several levels, firstly at the MAC or media access control address, the device’s unique LAN identification. Toshiba’s wireless LAN is set up only to interface with computers whose addresses it recognises.
“When the guys come from overseas, they ring before they come and give us their MAC address.”
However, it’s theoretically possible to spoof a MAC address. “If a laptop is stolen, the thief has the card. Also, with the right equipment, it’s possible to take over a MAC address.”
Westlake notes that the basic WEP or wired equivalent privacy standard for 802.11b wireless LANs can be broken.
“I know of some corporates that change their WEP key every 15 minutes and you need dedicated web servers for that.” Toshiba uses WEP at 64-bit with 40 characters, but Westlake believes that even 128-bit encryption can be broken.
Toshiba is looking at further security measures from provider Bluesocket, but no decision has been made yet, Westlake says.
“Setting up and configuring a wireless LAN is the easy bit — it’s wrapping your security policies around the fact you’ve now got an extra pipe that’s harder. With a wireless LAN, you’ve opened up another way of accessing your network.”
Having directional antennas properly set up is also important, he says. “The idea is to keep the signal on your floor,” he says.
Wireless LANs have great potential, Westlake says, as they offer mobility and, for someone without a wired network, substantially lower implementation costs. “You just have to be aware of the fact you’re broadcasting to anyone within range. As long as you’re aware of the security issues and have taken the necessary steps, it’s a good medium.”
Proxim recently to buy Agere Systems’ Orinoco product division for $US65 million. Proxim gains the Orinoco brand name, its 802.11b product line, division staff and more than 600 patents, which come originally from Bell Labs. Agere was spun off from a division of Lucent Technologies; Lucent was formerly Bell Labs, which was formerly NCR.