Mesh Security Gets Hardware Boost

By Ed Sutherland

September 24, 2004

A new chip promises to ease the burden of providing advanced encryption on mesh networks, and will potentially clear the way for new services like voice.

A new chip promises to lessen the burden of providing Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption on self-configuring mesh networks, while at the same time clearing the way for possibilities of growth and new services. Taiwanese chipmaker VIA Thursday announced that LocustWorld will be the first to support the hardware-based VIA PadLock ACE (Advanced Cryptography Engine) for high speed data encryption and decryption.

Wireless mesh allows many individual nodes to interconnect automatically with computers nearby, creating a large-scale, self-organizing network. Mesh is increasingly being adopted as an alternative to cable or DSL in so-called 'last mile' situations.

Although mesh networks have thus far been encrypting traffic using digital certificates and private keys, as the networks increase in popularity and the number of users rise, so does the demand on the system. One mesh developer says the system burden of providing encrypted virtual private network connections for each user can consume up to 20 percent of a mesh gateway's resources.

VIA's PadLock ACE is integrated into the chipmaker's C5P Nehemia core processor. The product provides U.S. government approved AES security, according to a statement.

UK-based LocustWorld's flagship product, MeshAP-Pro, is used by many commercial mesh providers. Until now, mesh networks were often bogged down by increased security demands as systems grew.

"As traffic increases, gateways become loaded with the overhead of handling multiple simultaneous cryptographic connections," according to a statement.

Such a situation resulted in a 10 or 20 percent CPU load just to handle the many virtual private network sessions needed by users, says Kenny Bain, president of FastLine Internet, a WISP based in Vivian, LA.

Bain has been using LocustWorld's open source mesh system to create networks in Texas and Louisiana -- he's the first qualified U.S. service provider for LocustWorld. He says commercial wireless companies are using the open source mesh software as a base upon which additional layers of service can be offered.

"Network performance using the VIA Padlock ACE is close to the speed of un-encrypted communications, achieving high-strength encryption without the associated performance impact, even on large networks with high traffic," said Richard Lander, CEO of LocustWorld.

"The VIA PadLock ACE-assisted Wireless Mesh gives high speed, secure, wireless networking a very significant performance boost," said John Anderson, LocustWorld CTO.

LocustWorld's MeshAP-Pro "is a great example of how compact power efficient devices based on VIA processors can enable industry leading security without affecting normal system performance," said Steven Lee, head of VIA's Embedded Platform Division.

In deploying mesh networks throughout Texas and eastern Louisiana, Bain says he "learned you had to have a beefier network."

Mesh gateways are starting to be used for a greater range of applications.

"More and more stuff is going to that gateway – like quality of service for voice," says Bain. "The next logical step is VoIP on the mesh." The mesh-based WISP plans to use the open source Asterisk Linux PBX software for the project.

Bain has used mesh technology and LocustWorld software to un-wire Atlanta; Linden and Paris, Texas; and Monroe, La.

It's not just small towns that are turning to mesh as the answer to wireless connectivity. New York, Los Angeles and, most lately, Philadelphia, Penn. are all investigating large scale networks, possibly using mesh.

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