As I’ve been digesting all I saw and heard last week at the RSA show, the major topic of wireless security re-emerged with a vengeance. To be honest, wireless security had kind of fallen off my radar for a while. Between most of the independent folks being acquired (both on the wireless security and wireless infrastructure sides) and lots of other shiny objects, there just wasn’t that much to worry about.

We all know retailers remained worried (thanks, Uncle TJX!) and we saw lots of folks looking to segregate guest access from their branch networks when offering wireless to customers or guests. But WEP was dead and buried (right?) and WPA2 seemed reasonably stable. What was left to worry about?

As with everything else, at some point folks realized that managing all these overlay networks and maintaining security is a pain in the butt. So the vendors inevitably get around to collapsing the networks and providing better management – which is what we saw at RSA.

Secure Wireless

Cisco puffed its chest out a bit and announced its Security Without Borders strategy, which sounds like someone over there overdosed on some Jack Welch books (remember borderlessness?). Basically they are finally integrating their disparate security devices, pushing the IronPort and ASA boxes to talk to each other, and adding some stuff to the TrustSec architecture.

In concept, being able to enable business users to access information from any device and any location with a high degree of ease and security sounds great. But the devil is in the details, which makes this feels a lot like the “self-defending network.” Great idea, not so hot on delivery. So if you have Cisco everywhere and can be patient, the pieces are there. But if you work in a heterogeneous world or have problems today, then this is more slideware from Cisco.

Wireless Security

On the other side of the coin, you have the UTM vendors expanding from their adjacent markets. Both Fortinet and Astaro made similar announcements about entering the wireless infrastructure market. Given existing strength in the retail market, it makes sense for UTM vendors to introduce thin access points, moving management intelligence to (you guessed it) their UTM gateways.

Introducing and managing wireless security policy from an enterprise perspective is a no-brainer (rogue access points die die die), though there isn’t much new here. The wireless infrastructure folks have been doing this for a while (at a cost, of course). The real barrier to success here isn’t technology, it’s politics. Most network folks like to buy gear from network companies, so will it be the network team or the security team defining the next wave of wireless infrastructure roll-out?

Who Wins?

My bet is on the network team, which means “secure wireless” will prevail eventually. I suspect everyone understands security must be a fundamental part of networks, data centers, endpoints, and applications, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. Rugged or not. This provides an opening for companies like Fortinet and Astaro. But to be clear, they have to understand they are selling to different customers, where they have very little history or credibility.

And since the security market still consists mostly of lemmings, I suspect you’ll see a bunch more wireless security activity over the next few months as competitors look to catch up with Cisco’s slideware.