Corriente offers Wi-Fi authentication at a small-office price: Corriente introduces Elektron this week, a $299 software package for Windows and Mac OS X that provides a full 802.1X and RADIUS account management and authentication suite using WPA for encryption and PEAP or EAP-TTLS to secure the login process.
The software is remarkably simple to use and can either pick up a list of users from the local machine on which it's running (Windows 2000, Server 2003, or XP, or Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later), or you can enter accounts directly. The company may add support later, possibly in a differently priced version, for external account support through a database or external RADIUS server. A fully functioning 30-day free trial is available at their downloads page.
Corriente's product is a tremendous price breakthrough compared to similar offerings by enterprise-focused companies that charge thousands of dollars and often per-seat fees for a server, or even Microsoft Windows Server 2003 which includes everything Elektron offers and a full server suite at hefty per-seat licenses coupled with complexity.
Elektron solves the out-of-band trust problem for using PEAP and EAP-TTLS by allowing you to use a certificate authority for Corriente on Elektron and client machines. A certificate for the Elektron server is then created against that authority. Elektron can export a Windows and Mac installer program for the root certificate authority.
This allows you to install a CA in all the clients that will connect to Elektron, which lets you avoid turning off a verification option in Windows XP that enormously reduces security. On the Mac, it avoids a step in which a certificate has to be accepted, although that's less onerous, and a user can confirm the fingerprint of the certificate against details provided by the Elektron server.
Elektron also allows external certificates to be used in a variety of ways. All certificate options provide for trust out of the Wi-Fi stream, which is key to any system in which security is your paramount concern.
The company estimates that it's practical to run as many as thousands of 802.1X clients against a single copy of their server on a modern (not server-grade) computer. What's not practical is managing accounts at that scale, which is why I say currently Elektron is best suited for smaller installations. A related issue is that best practices would require having two 802.1X servers up and running so that if one failed, the second was a fallback. A master/slave arrangement for synchronizing accounts across two servers would be a great addition in a future release.
Elektron becomes the third member of a troika of 802.1X options for smaller firms that lack the dollars, staff, or interest in using tools with more options or that are integrated as part of larger server packages. The other two cadres are InterLink's LucidLink and Wireless Security Corporation's WSC Guard. Both LucidLink and WSC Guard require special clients, but this allows them to control trust and fallback.
WSC Guard is a hosted 802.1X service which offers both WEP and WPA encryption, so it supports older client adapters without WPA upgrades or support. It includes software to run on the local LAN that the client communicates with in the event of an Internet connection failure. This allows a fallback from 802.1X to plain network encryption until the Internet link is back up. Without an Internet feed, Wi-Fi users would be unable to connect to the network. WSC Guard supports Windows XP and 2000, and they distribute a free generic WPA client for Windows 2000 that's made a lot of that platform user's in non-802.1X environments quite happy. WSC Guard is a subscription service.
LucidLink runs on a server on the local network and comes in home and small- to medium-size flavors that have fees based on the number of simultaneous users needing support. It, too, has a client, which runs only under Windows XP or 2000. Any user can attempt to connect to the server when he or she has the client installed, the server controls access including an out-of-band confirmation option. LucidLink requires WPA support.
Elektron, WSC Guard, and LucidLink each have distinct advantages, and the three together mean that smaller enterprises no longer need to question whether to use 802.1X--at least on some segments--but which option to choose. With the growing availability of VLAN setup in lower-end access points, 2005 should be the year of transition from WPA Personal-protected networks to WPA Enterprise security.