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Periodik Labs has released version 2 of its Elektron authentication software for Wi-Fi networks: Periodik (formerly Corriente Networks) has refreshed its WPA/WPA2 Enterprise authentication server by adding a pile of mostly unrelated features that extend authentication options. They've also added Windows Vista support; and an encryption engine validated for FIPS 140-2, required for certain financial and governmental deployments. (A WPA/WPA2 Enterprise server allows users to log in via special client software found in modern operating systems in a secure fashion, and be assigned a unique encryption key distinct from all other users on the network. It's a form of 802.1X that excludes WEP as an option.)
One neat feature they've included is the ability to use domains in the login identity to hand off the authentication task to the internal database of back-end server. This could be very useful as the public face of a multi-company network in which each firm maintains separate authentication processes. The new version simplifies VLAN (virtual LAN) assignment, which combines neatly with this option: a user logs in, is authenticated against their firm's server, and then handed off their firm's VLAN on the network. Periodik also cites the case of using their local database to handle simple guest access, even as other users are authenticated against back-end directory servers.
They've also dropped their entry-level server, which was their first released product. The entry-level Elektron cost $300, and lacked directory and legacy RADIUS integration features. I'm guessing there wasn't enough demand for it to warrant the minimal work necessary for development, or that it confused uses looking for a more high-end product. At $750 (software only) or $950 (software and one year of support), Elektron is still dramatically cheaper than competing enterprise software.
The software can be installed on either Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later (with a G4 or Intel Core Duo processor or faster) or under Windows 2000, Server 2003, XP, or Vista. The server's must be connected to the network via Ethernet.
Six major tech firms are backing OpenSEA, an effort to build an open-source 802.1X supplicant: 802.1X is port-based access control for networks, whether Ethernet, Wi-Fi or other. The system allows a Wi-Fi access point or an Ethernet switch to have an authentication session with a device that wants to connect without providing any access to that device until authentication is confirmed through back-end, secured means.
802.1X requires a supplicant, or a client package, that handles the authentication process. Microsoft built in a rather difficult-to-configure supplicant into a service pack of XP, and it's part of Vista as well. Mac OS X has featured 802.1X support since version 10.3; it's prettier and easier to use and configure. (A back-end authentication server is also required.
For other platforms or for enterprises that want to configure all their users with a single profile, there are clients available for virtually every desktop and handheld platform from Funk (now part of Juniper) and Meetinghouse (bought by Cisco) which run $25 to $50 or so each depending on platform mix and quantity. Devicescape also has an open-source embedded 802.1X supplicant in its platform.
OpenSEA hopes to achieve two different aims: First, to extend the existing Open1x Xsupplicant effort into an enterprise-class offering with a front-end and Windows support, along with a programmer's interface (API). XSupplicant came into being because of a lack of 802.1X support for GNU/Linux. Second, by turning the supplicant into a potentially cost-free element for IT departments to deploy or other businesses to use--OpenSEA will offer GPL and BSD licenses to facilitate that--they should lower the overall cost to deploy 802.1X while increasing the odds that 802.1X won't be "broken" by Microsoft or others.
Back a few years ago, Cisco and Microsoft were pursuing incompatible flavors of the authentication protocols that run over 802.1X, while Funk, Meetinghouse, and other pursued a third direction. Now, most supplicants and servers simply support all necessary flavors.
The companies behind OpenSEA at its launch are Extreme Networks, Identity Engines, Infoblox, Symantec Corporation, TippingPoint, and Trapeze Networks, along with a UK academic IT consortium, UKERNA Ja.net. The latter three are perhaps better known than the first three. (TippingPoint is a security division of 3Com that pays bounties for zero-day exploits to keep them from entering the wild.) The alliance is looking for more members.
In the enterprise world, the back-end part of the 802.1X ecosystem is simpler because companies typically are already running some kind of directory service and authentication system which can be patched directly into 802.1X. For smaller businesses, Periodik Labs's Elektron server software and DAZ Software's Wi-Fi Login Pro are affordable options, starting at $300 and $200, respectively.
The second acquisition in the last several months of a significant firm in the AAA (authentication, authorization, accounting) space: Meetinghouse and Funk were independent powerhouses, challenging Microsoft, Cisco, and others domination of a critical area of the networking space with their standalone servers and custom client packages. Both companies were active in the standards process, and I can't tell which was more important in EAP-TTLS, a secure 802.1X authentication method for wired and wireless network access that represents a strong alternative to the Microsoft and Cisco backed (and incompatible) flavors of PEAP. Both companies offered a radical expansion of client options to platforms that otherwise were unserved or had poor built-in supplicants for 802.1X.
Funk was bought by Juniper Networks in a deal closed last December; Cisco now buys Meetinghouse. This is a great deal for Cisco, which already makes a variety of RADIUS and AAA tools, because it lets them answer complaints among customers about choice and configuration by presenting a mature product line that will work perfectly fine with their existing client and server software.
The last remaining firm that I'm aware of at any reasonable scale is Open System Consultants down in Australia which make the Radiator Radius software, a well-liked package that requires some kind of brain expansion tool to configure. I tried, and got it working, but it's the kind of product that needs true dedication to unleash its seemingly bottomless potential, to judge by its manual.
I filed this story for Secure Enterprise about affordable, solid options for WPA Enterprise and 802.1X authentication for SMBs (small-to-medium-sized businesses): The article, which ran last month (sorry for the late ego link, folks), took as a prerequisite that I wanted to review products that required little to no network administrative knowledge. They should be as turnkey as possible, cost $1,000 or less for 25 seats, and offer standard PEAPv0 with MSCHAPv2 authentication to avoid requiring installing a client under Windows XP SP2.
The results were quite lovely. Several companies were invited, and of those that responded and met the criteria, I found four good solutions each for particular niches. Two outsourced 802.1X vendors, WiTopia.net and Boxedwireless, offer good, solid, and simple options that work reliably. Pricing is cheaper at WiTopia, but Boxedwireless offers EAP-TLS (authentication via individual certificates), which is otherwise expensive and tricky to set up even for a large business. The two hosted server solutions were also just dandy. Elektron is flexible, not overwhelming to learn, and relatively inexpensive. Radiator has more options than you can shake a stick out and isn't for the faint of heart, but it's incredibly powerful. It's too sophisticated for most SMBs, but it also can handle the most obscure and particular aspects of Wi-Fi authentication coupled with RADIUS and AAA granularity.
Note that LucidLink went out of business before our invitation letters went out, and that McAfee declined to participate because it hadn't retooled an offering for the SMB market yet. Funk and Meetinghouse were too expensive, but that per-seat expenses decreases for somewhat larger operations (say 100 to 200 users), and they offer extensive support options not provided by any of the firms featured in this article.
iBahn says that they're the first hospitality operator to put 802.1X across their network: iBahn's approach is, by the way, not "WPA" but WPA Enterprise. WPA Enterprise uses 802.1X to allow unique logins that are assigned unique encryption keys. The company didn't want to say WPA Enterprise when I interviewed them in July because it's a little unwieldly. T-Mobile's head and iBahn both agree that a better rubric is needed to make 802.1X and WPA Enterprise more understandable in the way that Wi-Fi signifies so much, so clearly.
iBahn spent a million dollars upgrading their network. I know that T-Mobile's costs were lower because their gear already supported multiple virtual SSIDs on the same AP; iBahn needed to swap out early gear, it seems. They operate 900 hotspots with up to 80 access points in each location as they serve the hotel market.
This line in the story doesn't make sense to me: "WPA, and its successor WPA2, distribute different keys to individual users, and will also shut down if an attack is detected." First, as noted above, this is WPA and WPA2 Enterprise, but this isn't an integral part of the standard. Perhaps iBahn is running intrusion-detection software?
Update: See comment below on WPA's attack detection. This is a pretty simple protection, but it's designed to catch spoofed frames; it's not robust intrusion detection.
In this Mobile Pipeline article, I compare three affordable outsourced 802.1X/WPA Enterprise providers: WiTopia's SecureMyFi, BoxedWireless.com, and WSC Guard (now part of McAfee) each have their strengths. WSC Guard is incredibly simple to use and administer, but it's a Windows-only offering. SecureMyWiFi and BoxedWireless offer flexibility by providing full 802.1X support for PEAP (both), EAP-TTLS (SecureMyWiFi) and EAP-TLS with certificate management (BoxedWireless).
Smaller businesses that lack per-user Wi-Fi logins should consider adopting one of these outsourced services if they'd rather not run the server themselves. I wrote some months ago about in-house 802.1X offerings, but even the simpler ones may be too geeky for businesses with zero IT staff.
Zyxel has released an AP with built-in 802.1X with PEAP: This all-in-one unit allows you to run a small office with WPA-Enterprise security using PEAP for up to 32 users. It's $179.
In a press release, Zyxel claimed it was the first to offer PEAP-in-a-box. That accolade should go, however, to computer-maker Gateway which offered such a device last July (my review). Its Gateway 7001 series (802.11g for $299, a+g for $399) features built-in PEAP and built-in VLAN segregation. It has two Ethernet ports which allow physical network segregation as well as virtual. Gateway never capitalized on this advantage, and the product now seems overpriced. [link via Tom's Networking]