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Cisco-Linksys deal could bring security strengths to consumer NICs

Apr 07, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksCisco SystemsNetwork Security

* Why Cisco's buy of Linksys should make enterprise security chiefs happy

I’ve read several analyses of Cisco’s recent purchase of Linksys and noticed that (sniff) none paralleled my take on the rationale behind the deal. I view the move entirely in a wireless light; as a way for Cisco to control the company that usually appears on market-share pie charts as the maker of the most popular consumer brand of wireless LAN network interface cards.

It’s no secret that Cisco wants to own the WLAN access point market. And because Cisco access points require NICs that support Cisco’s own LEAP authentication protocol, Cisco needs to get LEAP into the wide-ranging mix of cards out there in the consumer market. Cisco got started down this path a few weeks ago when it announced it would license its wireless security technology suite (including LEAP), at no cost, to makers of WLAN chips and NICs.

Now, most analysts agree that WLANs – while much talked about but not yet widely deployed in enterprises – are getting their momentum from home use.  Mom or Dad purchases and installs a consumer-class wireless access point and NICs in the various laptops and desktops around the house. This way, everybody can share that broadband Internet connection. This is a simple, cable-free approach to eliminating the dinner-table brawls over who’s going to get to surf the Internet, when, and for how long that evening.

Once hooked on the convenience of wireless, some Moms and Dads have been known to smuggle these inexpensive (and relatively insecure) NICs and access points into their offices, if their employers don’t have the capability installed, much to the chagrin of the corporate security officer.

So if you’re Cisco, known for its security strengths and enterprise-class products, how do you protect the WLANs of your enterprise customers from this rogue gear and ensure interoperability between your access points and any NIC of choice? You need to get LEAP into the products. And the easiest way to do that is to buy the most popular consumer-class NIC company. This is pretty predictable, based on Cisco’s past shop-a-holic behavior.

It might make sense if, at some point, Cisco offers an upgrade or trade-in program for the Linksys gear already out there for products that support LEAP. Perhaps, for example, it could do this in the second half of the year when all new Wi-Fi-certified products will have to support the new Wi-Fi Protected Access security components, anyway.