AirMagnet polarizes wireless monitoring debate

Wireless security specialist AirMagnet believes it can settle a rumbling dispute in the Wi-Fi world, by offering a box that combines two access points with a full-time wireless monitor. The new device, based on multichannel silicon from Engim, could find its way into other vendors' Wi-Fi systems next year.

AirMagnet -- along with other specialists such as AirDefense -- sells security products that use stand-alone probes. However, a separate monitor network adds a lot to the price of a Wi-Fi network, and vendors such as Airespace, Aruba Wireless Networks and Trapeze Networks reckon they save IT managers that money by adding "part-time" monitoring functions to their access points.

"Occasional scanning is the worst way to do it," said Rich Mironov, vice president of marketing at AirMagnet. "You can't pick up a dictionary attack with occasional analysis." AirMagnet's device can handle three channels at once, so it monitors full time without interrupting Wi-Fi service.

The prototypes shown at the Wi-Fi Planet show in San Jose this week, can operate on all three non-overlapping 2.4GHz Wi-Fi channels simultaneously, allowing them to have two channels dedicated to WLAN communications and to monitor continuously on the other, so a network of the APs can monitor all 2.4GHz channels continuously.

AirMagnet will not sell the devices direct to users, but hopes it will be adopted by a system vendor wanting to bundle monitoring -- or improve an existing monitoring feature. Top of its list to convince would probably be Symbol Technologies, whose access points currently have no monitoring ability.

The devices are built by Engim, a silicon vendor which offered its wideband multichannel chips to OEMs in an "All Services Access Point" (ASAP) reference design in July. The AirMagnet deal gives Engim another persuasive point when pitching its concept to system vendors. "Engim started out with a focus on more capacity," said Scott Lindsay, VP of Marketing at Engim. "That is still of interest, but what has turned out to be more interesting is to use the channels for full-time monitoring."

For AirMagnet, the devices would be a new channel, with its probes built into users' networks automatically. The devices are also an improvement over AirMagnet's current probes -- they will pick up more kinds of interference since they scan the full 2.4GHz spectrum, rather than just looking for proper Wi-Fi data.

For a device that does the job of three others, the price should be around 50 percent more than a single access point, said Mironov.

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