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AirMagnet: Life Beyond Security

Vendor broadens focus in anticipation of a shakeout in wireless intrusion detection market

WiFi startup Airmagnet wants you all to know that it offers more than just wireless security. Yep, the company also does scintillating stuff like network performance analysis and 802.11 VOIP testing, and has overhauled its Website and marketing message to reflect this. [Ed note: Be still my beating heart!]

There is, however, a wider story behind the seemingly bland marketing malarkey. Major changes are coming to the wireless security market, and AirMagnet is among the first of the big-name startups to try and expand beyond the increasingly crowded wireless intrusion detection and prevention (WIPS/WIDS) marketplace where it made its name.

"I think you're going to see a shaking out of the WIPS/WIDS industry," says Kevin Allan, AirMagnet's new senior director of marketing. "Some of the startups are going to get bought and some of them aren't going to make it."

The last few years have indeed seen a steady evolution of the wireless LAN security market. As enterprise customers initially started to roll out 802.11 networks in 2001 or 2002 it became clear that the initial security specs fell well short of business requirements. In addition to that, network managers were soon faced with the problem of finding and stopping "rogue" access points brought in by staff and plugged into the wired network. These rogue APs opened a serious security hole that hackers could use to breach company systems, databases, or desktops.

A slew of startups, including AirMagnet, AirDefense Inc., and AirTight Networks Inc. have sprung up to serve the needs of justifiably paranoid 802.11 users. Initially they offered walkaround network sniffing tools for network adminstrators, which IT staff would use on a laptop or a PDA to patrol the wireless network looking for rogues.

By 2004, these systems had essentially turned into static sensor products that could be located with the access point network to sniff traffic 24/7. In addition, the sensors were better integrated with other security and management tools on the corporate network.

Over the last couple of years, however, more established players like Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM have sniffed out the opportunities in the wireless IDS space and brought product to market. Network vendors and WiFi startups, such as Aruba Wireless Networks , have also begun to incorporate some of the sniffing features that AirMagnet and others popularized directly into their general infrastructure offerings, removing the need for a separate class of products.

In fact, this is one of the ways that AirMagnet hopes to evolve by licensing its technology to third parties, AirMagnet's Allan says: "We're partnering up with guys like Aruba."

The firm has been a Cisco partner for several years. "We're kind of like Switzerland," Allan modestly asserts. "We're trying to make sure we work with everyone."

Of course, firms like Cisco and Juniper Networks Inc. haven't necessarilly remained neutral partners for security startups they have worked with before. Cisco bought Perfigo in 2004 for $74 million, and Juniper snapped up Funk Software for $122 million late in 2005 (See Juniper Gets Funky and Cisco Picks Up Perfigo.)

Allan says that the company will continue to support its own line of sensors as well. "Security is still a big deal," he says. "But it is evolving."

Overall, IDS/IPS has been good to AirMagnet. The company says it has been profitable since 2002. "They're doing fine," comments Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias. "They have a very broad product line now, some good partners, and a great reputation."

It remains to be seen whether the same holds true for the rest of the WIPS startups.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung, special to Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • AirDefense Inc.
  • AirMagnet Inc.
  • AirTight Networks Inc.
  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)
  • Farpoint Group
  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)
  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)
  • Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR)

    Dan is to hats what Will.I.Am is to ridiculous eyewear. Fedora, trilby, tam-o-shanter -- all have graced the Jones pate during his career as the go-to purveyor of mobile essentials. But hey, Dan is so much more than 4G maps and state-of-the-art headgear. Before joining the ... View Full Bio

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