Leaders in Wireless Security: An Exclusive Security Dealer Roundtable

Karen Duane Johnson: As the reliance on wireless networks and products grows, there is also a growing concern for wireless network security.   What concerns do you have and how have you or your company taken steps to handle this concern with clients?


Tracy Senstock , systems engineer III, Adesta : The first step in meeting the wireless security challenge is to ensure the customer has a security policy in place that defines what information is to be protected, who should have access and how security should be administered.   Wireless networks broadcast their presence and possibly all the video or data to anyone who happens to be listening.   With the explosion of wireless networks many problems with clear-text protocols were reintroduced.   In addition, wireless networks with little or no security, or security rules and applications incorrectly configured, permit unauthorized users access to networks by bypassing firewalls or other security devices.  


Ray Shilling, vice president of sales and marketing, AvaLAN Wireless: Traditionally 802.11 WiFi systems have proven to be quite vulnerable to network hackers.   This is due to the fact that 802.11 is a published standard that can be reverse engineered by the bad guys. Several manufacturers have developed proprietary closed-loop systems that are not published, resulting in a more secure network which does not transmit a public key that can be intercepted and exploited.

Mark Jarman , president, Inovonics : This is a growing concern because network security has always been a top priority. By developing a repeater-based system, extended wireless security systems are possible in commercial settings.   Our radio platform utilizes a frequency-hopping, spread spectrum technique originally developed by the military containing a proprietary RF protocol that specifically addresses wireless signal security.  


Steve Kuntz, president, MicroTek Electronics: S ecurity is and will always be a concern for networks in general as well as wireless networks.  MicroTek addresses this issue currently by employing the latest WPA2 encryption in its wireless Ethernet systems.   

Joe Maskrey , president and CEO, Novation Wireless Security Systems: In the access control field the possibility of compromising the security of wireless communication is very low.   Current communications encryption technology, together with the continuously changing character of the data being transferred, ensures that even with the most powerful computer systems, the potential for accurately inserting compromising data into a communications stream is low.


Derek Trimble, president, OSI Security Devices: We had the same concerns with the initial slow adoption of wireless as a reliable communications medium. We have seen the development of wireless access control being driven by three strong overriding needs: One is to provide a secure medium for transmission and receipt of data; two is a need to maximize our power efficiencies within the allowable limits set by FCC, choosing 802.15.4 as our communications “bus” as it operates outside of the cluttered 802.11 spectrum; and third, the need for strong encryption.


Keith Jentoft , president, RSIalarm Videofied : We recommend and offer the same encryption system that the US military uses to secure their communications in the battlefield and we believe that this should be sufficient for the security industry.  The spread spectrum transmission is also from military communications and eliminates jamming and external signal interference.


Louis Nicholas, product manager, Intelligent Edge Devices, Verint Systems: Many believe that since the network over which wireless video data travels is literally “thin air,” it cannot be physically secured like a traditional coaxial or Ethernet cable.   This gives many people the false impression that wireless technologies are highly vulnerable to attack.   With proper authentication and encryption technology, wireless transmission is equally, if not more secure, than wired networking mediums.  

Johnson: What are the clients looking for in wireless products? And applications?


Senstock : Some of the equipment clients are looking to install include: wireless cameras, PDA's, mobile security solutions, mobile security monitoring capability, high capacity wireless radios, long-range wireless radios, point-to-multipoint radios and clients' point-to-point radios. On the technology side clients are interested in low bandwidth applications, technology that is fault tolerant, self-healing, and an inexpensive solution but one that is also secure with greater availability.


Shilling: Clients are searching for cutting-edge non-line-of-sight performance with the ability to penetrate through foliage and building walls, with a high degree of power and range. In addition to the degree of technological sophistication and performance offered by these products, clients also want a solution that is easy to install and use that offers them a high degree of security in their applications.


Jarman : It's speed of installation and subsequent cost savings. It used to be that wireless intrusion and burglary sensors were only used for specific difficult-to-wire points. We have seen an upswing in the number of organizations who are looking to wireless for a complete installation and not just the tough-to-wire points. Customers are realizing they can count on its reliability, lower installation labor requirements and flexibility that wired systems cannot offer.   We are also seeing a growing demand for mixed systems utilizing temperature sensors, analog sensor transmitters and metering sensors.


Maskrey : We are seeing a rise in the usage of plug-and-play techniques to reduce the required skill set of the technician/installer significantly. This offers a very substantial reduction in the time on the job site, as access installations at each door are reduced from hours to minutes and it is quite feasible for a twenty card reader system to be installed and operational in a single day.


Kuntz: Clients are looking for ease of use, reliable connectivity and adequate bandwidth from wireless Ethernet products.  Meeting the demands of this industry segment involves providing and offering plug and play operability, a channeled approach to frequency management, system diagnostics and design services for applications. For any wireless installation to be successful, it is important to understand line-of-sight requirements and radio frequency interference issues in the environment. 


Trimble: Customers are looking for systems that are easy to use, simple to install, offers low cost of entry and is reliable. Non-traditional applications are a growing segment where hardwired systems are very problematic, too expensive or not suitable because of building history or dynamics. For example, asbestos abatement areas, plenum ceilings, as there is no conduit, historic buildings, remote sites and mobile facilities such as temporary classrooms, etc., also would apply. The retrofit market offers many opportunities where there is a need to upgrade or replace a competitor's controller.


Jentoft: Customers are looking for reliability and easy installations. Unfortunately, most wireless products actually need A/C power to operate. Customers want devices that can go anywhere and are not limited by outlets.  There is a demand for alarms and video to be transmitted to the central station over the cell network instead of phone or coaxial cable.  A completely wireless operation will open new areas for applications that have no power or communication.


Nicholas: Clients are looking for wireless solutions that allow them to securely access and distribute video and security data without the costly build-out of wired infrastructure.   Customers are also seeking enterprise-class wireless solutions, which differ significantly from commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) products typically used in home or small office computer networks.   


Johnson: What does the future of wireless innovation hold? What new applications are there on the horizon? Are there seemingly endless application uses for wireless?

Senstock from Adesta : Yes it appears there is an endless application for wireless uses.


Shilling from AvaLAN : The future of wireless transmission can be found in the deployment of high powered, narrow bandwidth frequency intelligent systems to solve range and interference problems.


Jarman from Inovonics : When it comes to wireless technology innovations the possibilities are limitless, not only in the security industry but to the commercial industry as a whole. We believe it's about the network, not just the sensors. The ability to install a wireless network that becomes a utility that the end user can tap into over the life of the system as a multiple-application backbone will be important.


Kuntz from MicroTek : As the IT and physical security worlds continue to converge, the leaders in wireless technology will continue to find creative ways to use existing and emerging wireless technologies.  Recent advances in mobile and mesh wireless systems are good examples.  For the security industry, the key will be reliable secure connectivity that provides sufficient bandwidth and range for the desired application.


Maskrey from Novation Wireless: The latest innovation in 900 MHz spread spectrum technology is the development which makes a step change in the application of wireless technology to access control extending the range of communication between doors and field panels by more than 300 percent.   Other types of wireless communication are also in use in the access market, but in general these do not exhibit the same robustness, range and immunity to interference as the 900 MHz technology.


Trimble from OSI: As industry trends push the intelligence to the field look for smart sensors, smart wireless CCTV devices and smart wireless distributed nodes that support other capabilities from building management to industrial processing calibration and diagnostics. One possible drawback, new access reading technologies could bring their own set of problems as the power envelope on the door is challenged.     

Jentoft from RSIalarm Videofied : There is a need for weatherproof battery powered sensors/cameras for harsh environments.


Nicholas from Verint : The future of wireless innovation will be focused on analytics at the network edge – the embedding of video analytics technology into wireless devices that sit on a wide-area security perimeter and only send back the most pertinent alarms and alerts. Wireless solutions must be “future ready” and able to scale to meet an organization's changing security needs over time, without significant incremental costs.  


Johnson: What is the growth potential for this market?   What steps can security dealers take to capitalize on this growth?


Senstock : Potential areas for growth include getting the video and alarm information out to the security guard or security team in the field.   Enabling personnel that are not in a security command center the ability to monitor, control and view, security information, as well as communicate with the command center anywhere at anytime is the next logical step.


Shilling: The growth potential for this market is enormous! Examples of the types of expanded applications could be in wireless access controls, network video solutions, remote connectivity and solar-powered systems. To capitalize on this growth, dealers and integrators must retool their skill sets to not only learn networking (IP) skills, but also learn the fundamentals of wireless transmission.


Jarman : Despite predictions of seven percent annual growth for the security industry as a whole, we think the wireless sub-market will grow at double-digit rates.   This growth projection is partially owed to the labor savings that wireless offers the installers/integrators. Security dealers can capitalize on being able to complete more wireless jobs in less time as with hard-wired jobs. Security dealers need to capitalize on opportunities found in understanding IT-based systems, because a PLC-controlled system isn't likely to offer the breadth of solutions that are now possible and in demand by end users.

Kuntz: The wireless market will continue to grow significantly over the next few years.  To capitalize on this growth, education, as it relates to wireless products and system deployment, will be a key factor.  Security dealers should thoroughly understand how the convergence of traditional security and IT is opening up new opportunities with network infrastructures.


Maskrey : Wireless communication in the access control market finds its best application in the small to medium sized access systems.   Over 80 percent of the access market is made up of systems with 64-card readers or less. So the wireless application of access control should over a period of time become the dominant form of access system being used in new installations.   It may also become the dominant communications medium for add-ons and upgrades to existing wired systems. In my view dealers who utilize wireless options are likely to find themselves in a more competitive position.


Trimble: The growth opportunities are huge and the business argument is compelling. If a dealer can do four times as many access control installations with the same profit margins for each job using wireless as they could for one installation using hardwired traditional access control, then it makes perfect sense. Time on site is expensive; anytime that can be reduced, it is a win for both the customer and the dealer.


Jentoft: We believe that the market is very young and that growing pressure for verified responses will make wireless video a common product.  I would encourage dealers to examine their options and offer cost effective solutions to their client base.


Nicholas: Growth in the wireless market has been strong and will continue to be for many years. The most important step for any security dealer is to educate themselves on wireless technologies and acquire the skills required to properly size, plan, configure and install wireless networks.