Corriente Debuts 802.1X Tool

By Naomi Graychase

February 02, 2005

The world of SMB WLAN security gets a new player set to make authentication easy by supporting third-party clients.

Just a few weeks ago, Corriente Networks, a small, privately-held software developer in Berkeley, California, announced the release of its first product, Elektron, which was promptly named "Best of Show," at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. An auspicious debut for a company that employs only three people.

Elektron is enterprise-grade server software, which is priced and designed to provide security for SMB Wi-Fi networks. It provides RADIUS/802.1X authentication services, and offers support for the popular Wi-Fi security authentication protocols, including PEAP and TTLS. Elektron supports not only Windows XP and Mac OS X 10.3 clients using built in Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), but also open source and third party software. They say it's so easy to set up that clicking through a simple software wizard makes it fully operational. Perhaps more importantly, SMBs won't have to pay through the nose to take advantage of its security options. The price tag? $299 direct from Corriente.

"We are targeting small companies that may not even have an IT staff," says Chris Hawk, one of the principals at Corriente. "Users just double-click the installer, and it interviews you, and then you're done."

The roughly $300 price tag—with none of the hefty per-seat fees charged by enterprise-focused companies—may start a new trend in this segment of the Wi-Fi security market. Enterprise-level competitors offer solutions in the upwards of $5,000 range, out of reach for most small businesses. Direct competitors for SMB dollars include LucidLink, which offers a product for SOHOs on up that varies in price from $99-$895 (or more), depending on the number of users. Wireless Security Corporation's WSC Guard provides a security service for roughly $5 per person per month. Both LucidLink and WSC Guard require special clients—Corriente doesn't.

So, how has Corriente managed to offer a product whose features compete with solutions that cost more than ten times as much?

"I can't tell you our secret," says Hawk. "It's not like we kidnapped a bunch of programmers and stuck them in the basement -- We're taking a different approach to the sales aspect. I can't imagine what other companies are doing at that [$5,000] price level. They have some features we don't, but we had them, and then we actually took them out of the shipping version because we wanted to make it easier to use."

Making a product that was easy to use was the primary goal for Corriente. Extensive beta testing was done before the final version was released at MacWorld Expo in January to raves. While most users in Corriente's target audience are pleased by the simplicity of configuring Elektron, some potential users have requested more freedom to customize settings.

"In the future, we'll have a pro version you can configure the hell out of," says Hawk.

The Wi-Fi Alliance requires that WPA support be included in any access point or client adaptor that bears the label, "Wi-Fi Certified." So, in order to earn that label, major manufacturers like Linksys and Apple support WPA right out of the box. Using Elektron with today's basic Wi-Fi Certified hardware, small businesses can attain enterprise-level security without purchasing enterprise-level hardware.

Corriente, which was founded three years ago with a war chest earned from consulting work by its principals, sees LucidLink (which was named Best of Show at Wi-Fi Planet in 2004) and WSC Guard as its primary competitors, but with some clear distinctions between those products and its own.

"We started out with the idea that we'd make security products—we all come from a security background," says Hawk. "There was nobody in the [SMB Wi-Fi security] market at that time. Now there is LucidLink and WSC Guard. WSC Guard is a service. You pay them a fee and they host the server for you. It doesn't require a lot of expertise because someone else manages it for you. The downside is, if your Internet link goes down, you can't get on your Wi-Fi network, although they may have a client that acts as a back-up. With LucidLink, you get their server [software] and install it, but you have to use their client software. Ours works with whatever is built into the OS you're using, as well as a whole bunch of third party software."

A fully functioning 30-day free trial is available at the Corriente Web site. Elektron can either pick up a list of users from the local machine on which it's running (Windows 2000, Server 2003, or XP, or Mac OS X 10.2.8 or later), or accounts can be entered directly.

Looking ahead, Corriente does not plan to rapidly expand its product line or seek a public stock offering.

"We're going to concentrate on doing one thing well. We're self-funded and we'd like to stay that way," says Hawk.

Originally published on .

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