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Tool offers corporate laptop users a wireless security boost

Most companies do a pretty good job with wireless security within the office walls, but what happens when end users take their laptops home -- or to Starbucks?

Wireless security and policy works great in-house, but once employees leave the office with a laptop, it's a whole other ballgame.

They can go to Starbucks and get onto a wireless network to access corporate applications. They can use Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and infrared. There are many wireless connections available.

"You can manage a lot of things 24/7 … but a lot of customers are concerned with what happens with the laptops when employees go home or to a hot spot or what have you," said Wade Williamson, a product manager for AirMagnet.

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AirMagnet today addressed those customer concerns with the release of StreetWise, a software-based endpoint security tool that lets network administrators select what types of access corporate laptops can gain from outside the office to minimize the risk of leaving sensitive data out in the open. What sets StreetWise apart, Williamson said, is that savvy end users can't evade, disable or remove the security features to connect to unsecured wireless networks. It cannot be circumvented.

Three versions of StreetWise are available. The basic option allows administrators to create policies and manually install software on end users' laptops. StreetWise Central is controlled and managed by the administrator from a central server. And StreetWise Personal is a downloadable freeware version available for consumers to set security rules on their personal or shared laptops.

Administrators can set the kind of network connection a laptop can make based on connection type, location and other metrics, according to Williamson.

For example, an end user might be allowed Wi-Fi access in the office, but once that machine leaves the office, Wi-Fi is disabled. Or rules can be put in place that allow the laptop to have Wi-Fi connections at home only.

Recent research by Gartner Inc. indicates that by 2008 there will be 41 million corporate employees worldwide who will spend at least one day a week telecommuting. There will also be about 100 million who work from home at least one day per month.

Gartner research director Rachna Ahlawat said: "The corporate laptop is one of the most dangerous points of vulnerability for any enterprise. To be truly secure, corporations need a way to exert strict control over how laptops are used in public wireless environments."

StreetWise can enforce Wi-Fi security by setting strict thresholds and preventing connections to devices that don't meet administrators' defined security standards, Williamson said. Approved hardware lists can also be specified so that users can't circumvent designated policies by buying their own hardware.

StreetWise can also use location-aware policies that adapt to a user's location. Connection ports are controlled that can enable or disable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or infrared, and end-user mistakes that create security problems can be prevented by disallowing simultaneous wired and wireless connections, which could lead to ad hoc connections.

"Regardless of where I go, I'm going to be able to make only secure wireless connections," Williamson said. "It answers the question: How do I manage these [laptops] outside of the office?"

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