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Wireless Security Gives Pacific Star A Chance To Shine

Wireless security is proving to be a boon for integrator Pacific Star Communications.

Federal government agencies, in particular, are turning to solution providers to help them choose and deploy wireless security solutions. In that space, Portland-based Pacific Star leads with Fortress Technologies' AirFortress wireless security products.

The solution provider worked with the Veterans Administration to integrate AirFortress into three sites in the Midwest. Pacific Star installed and configured the Access Control Server software, the AirFortress 6500 wireless security gateway and end-user software packages.

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Pacific Star's Buchholz says AirFortress appeals to government agencies because it's the only wireless solution that has achieved FIPS certification.

The AirFortress security gateway installs as a Layer 2 encrypting bridge, integrating seamlessly with existing network infrastructure systems. The gateway sits behind a wireless access point to provide a secure edge to the wireless network and ties all access points to the security gateway, which in turn hooks into the LAN. The AirFortress system, which has built-in network, device and user authentication, was fully integrated into the VA's existing LAN environment.

AirFortress is currently the only wireless security solution to have achieved Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) certification, which makes it especially appealing to government agencies, said Ampy Buchholz, engineering manager at Pacific Star, based here. FIPS is a series of publications issued by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology that specify information security guidelines for federal government departments and agencies.

All Fortress Technologies orders,even large government contracts,go through systems integration partners, said Ken Evans, vice president of marketing and product management at the Oldsmar, Fla.-based company.

"We are not likely to break that [channel] model," Evans said. "The channel is much closer to the customer anyway."

But not every solution provider can become a partner, which Buchholz appreciates. Partners must first complete a training and certification program to work with Fortress Technologies. "[AirFortress] is not hard to install compared to other networking gear and security solutions, but you have to be fairly technical from a networking standpoint," Buchholz said.

Fortress Technologies works with platform partners developing laptops and PDAs and solution providers with expertise in application security, network infrastructure, user management, intrusion detection and physical security. Fortress Technologies also relies on systems integrators to design and support customer networks, as well as VARs and distributors currently selling wireless security solutions and add-on services such as site surveys, security policy audits, rogue AP detection and installation services for wireless LANs.

Pacific Star is finding multiple opportunities to tie AirFortress into other products it offers, Buchholz said. The solution provider currently resells about 75,000 products and represents about 300 manufacturers, he said.

Pacific Star is also in negotiations to incorporate AirFortess into a large equipment manufacturer's wireless gear and is testing the deployment of AirFortress with laser line-of-sight technology developed by RF Technologies, Watsonville, Calif.

"Laser line-of-sight does encryption and compression, but what about people who can get on top of a building or sit below the floor of a dish and intercept microwave signals? It sounds paranoid, but we can add a layer of security so [those systems aren't] subject to intrusion," Evans said.

Another emerging opportunity for solution providers is creating wireless networks in the place of traditional wired ones, Buchholz said.

"Businesses are coming to us in droves right now to set up wireless networks, such as a school district that wants to tie three small towns together or a nursery that's spread out over a mile and wants to connect outbuildings to the central nursery," Buchholz said.

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