September 29, 2003
By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Renton PD Rolls Out Wireless Bridge System

Police officers for years have had to rely on radio and basic text messaging systems to get information on suspects. Not only are such systems slow with shared bandwidth of 9.6Kbps to 19.2Kbps they don't help eliminate a real time-waster that police have: bringing in suspects to verify their identities. It's very common for a suspect to claim to be someone else and often to proffer a fake ID, and to verify the person's identity means bringing him to a police station and searching drivers' license and other records at a PC there. Meanwhile, one or two officers are now not patrolling the streets.

Seeing no pending improvement to its Motorola RDLAP wireless system, the city of Renton, Wash. (a suburb of Seattle) is deploying an 802.11b network throughout the city of 58,000. The network will let police officers receive photos of drivers' licenses and other records to verify suspect identity on the spot, as well as send and receive detailed records. Deploying this $500,000 network did raise several challenges, including ensuring security at Layer 2 of the network level and ensuring connectivity throughout the hilly city, where signal blind spots are common.

To solve the security issue, Renton PD is using Cranite Systems' WirelessWall system, which uses the federal FIPS security protocol to encrypt the entire packet, rather than just the message as is common in most wireless protocols. Although Renton does not need to use FIPS per se, having this as its wireless authentication and encryption standard may help in the future, as it is used by federal and military agencies. "It was a plus to get it now in case we later have to have it. You never know from quarter to quarter what's going to be thrown your way," notes Steven Miller, the senior network specialist in Renton who led the 802.11 deployment.

Miller had not found another solution that met his criteria: AES-based encryption to reduce required processing power on the client devices, 128-bit encryption to prevent timely unauthorized decoding of intercepted communications, and Layer 2 security to ensure that addresses within the transmission cannot be captured and spoofed or hijacked. While Renton did not specify FIPS, Miller says the Cranite deployment met all his requirements.

Miller faced another security-related challenge: support for Novell LDAP directories. The city did not want to replace its Novell LDAP system with a Microsoft solution simply to add wireless access, but it found few vendors supported Novell (Cranite Systems and Funk Software were two of the exceptions). So Renton uses Cisco LEAP servers on Windows for the first-level authentication and has installed Novell connectors on those servers to route the second-level authentication to Cranite's policy servers and on to Novell's LDAP system.

The other issue was coverage, an issue complicated by the city's many hills. The city required 80% coverage, and to meet that minimum, Miller and his IT colleagues relied on wireless fixed bridges to extend the coverage of access points placed throughout the city. The fixed bridges are hard-wired to the city network and augment the access points. Currently, the city has deployed five access points and five fixed bridges, and expects to have 30 access points and 45 fixed bridges by summer 2004. The city brought in several consultants to do a site survey for access point and fixed bridge placement, as well as to deploy them.

In addition to the fixed bridges, the city is installing bridges in each patrol car. Currently, five such mobile bridges are in place, with 85 expected by summer 2004. The mobile bridges are installed in patrol cars' trunks and connect to an antenna on the roof that communicates with access points or fixed bridges. By having a bridge in the patrol car, officers can remove their notebooks from the car and still have a wireless connection the mobile bridge acts as a way station between the notebook and the access points and fixed bridges. These mobile bridges can also connect patrol cars via other patrol cars to access points and fixed bridges in a mesh configuration, for when a patrol car is out of access point/fixed bridge range but within range of another patrol car that can connect to the access point/fixed bridge. However, Miller notes that this has not proven to be reliable, and the mobile bridges' occasional utility this way is simply an extra benefit of having the mobile bridges installed, not the justification for it.

Got deployment experience and lessons to share? Let us know at news@it-wireless.com.

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IBM and Research in Motion have agreed to make IBM's WebSphere Everywhere Access middleware work with the RIM BlackBerry server. That will let BlackBerry users access corporate applications and servers, not just email. It will also permit IT developers to customize enterprise applications for access by BlackBerry users.

Cranite Systems has updated its WirelessWall suite. The new WirelessWall 3.0 includes a "virtual dashboard," a browser-based management console that provides a snapshot of the entire secure, wireless network, including real-time system usage and performance, as well as improved network protection, access point discovery and management, location-based visitor policies, and streamlined deployment. The 3.0 release provides network managers with the additional capabilities integrate wireless users into their existing network architectures.

eBusiness Solution Pros has added more platform and terminal emulation support to its Stay-Linked product, which extends IBM AS/400 iSeries supply chain applications to wireless devices through 5250 terminal emulation. It now supports IBM mainframe zSeries servers running the z/OS and OS/390 operating systems (via 3270 emulation), IBM RS/6000 pSeries servers running the the AIX operating system (via VT emulation), and Hewlett-Packard HP9000 servers running on the HP-UX operating system (via VT emulation).

LXE has announced the MX6, a Windows-based barcoding scanning handheld computer that includes 802.11b wireless technology.

Psion Teklogix is integrating Toshiba's Bluetooth SDIO Card into the Psion Teklogix 7535 handhelds, which will let them connect to remote printers, cell phones, and other devices equipped with Bluetooth radios.

Intermec Technologies' 700 series of handhelds are now certified to operate on AT&T Wireless's GPRS cellular data network.

Atheros Communications has announced two new chipsets that extend the range and reduce the power consumption of 802.11 wireless networks. The company says its new chips reduce 802.11a/g power consumption by 60% over 802.11b chips while providing twice the range. The company did not announce any customers for its chips.

Got a great product or technology tip? Send it to news@it-wireless.com.


MARKET SCAN:

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Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) has grown from nothing six months ago to the most-used security method for securing wireless LANs, according to market researcher Evans Data's Fall Wireless Development Survey. WPA replaces the inadequate Wired Equivalency Protocol (WEP) technology and is based on the 802.11i draft standard. WEP is still used by 14% of the survey respondents, compared to 20% for WPA. "WEP was flawed from the start, because it was designed by electrical engineers and not cryptographers. Although adequate for home use, its inability to effectively secure enterprise-level wireless networks from intrusion makes it no surprise at all that WPA's newer, more robust solution is finding much higher acceptance within the wireless development community," said Jeff Duntemann, Evans' wireless analyst. "The next survey should show even higher rates of WPA adoption."

Other findings from the August survey of more than 450 wireless developers worldwide:

  • The biggest challenges to developing wireless applications are working with a resource-constrained platform followed by rapidly changing standards, unfamiliarity with device programming and lack of good development tools.
  • The most important advanced capabilities for wireless devices (respondents were asked to select as many as they wished) include screen size and resolution, wireless network support, transaction security, support for color and messaging.
  • Testing and debugging tools were the second most important tools for wireless development, but they are also the third-worst tools in terms of developer satisfaction with them, ahead of wireless editors and performance tools.

In other market news, hot-spot service provider Concourse Communications says that usage of Wi-Fi networks in the airports it services grew 19% in August over July, representing an annualized growth rate of over 600%. The company's data refer to user sessions, not necessarily unique users. And security vendor AirDefense claims that its survey of enterprise access points in Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco business districts revealed that 57% did not encrypt their data and that 9% were unauthorized (rogue) access points, which the company says it concluded after realizing they used only out-of-the-box, default settings. Engineers drove along business streets and surveyed 1,136 access points. However, the most active enterprise wireless LANs in San Francisco and Chicago did use some form of encryption. Of the total traffic observed in San Francisco, 91% was encrypted. In Chicago, 78% of the observed traffic was encrypted. However, the drive-by in Atlanta showed that only 8% of the total traffic was encrypted. AirDefense does not know whether the access points were meant to be secured, as it did not contact any businesses or try to log in to any of the networks.


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