Cisco beefs up Wi-Fi mobile payment security

Cisco is beefing up wireless transaction security with new software features for its Wi-Fi access points. The vendor says the changes add needed protection over and above that mandated by the Payment Card Industry (PCI) standard.

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A December 2010 survey by Cisco of 500 retail customers found that about one-third of them pass payment or credit card data over internal Wi-Fi networks. (For more details from that study, check out "Survey on PCI: How it's impacting network security".)

The PCI specification, set by the PCI Security Standards Council, outlines how payment-card data is to be secured and stored. Several provisions apply to wireless networks used to transmit that information. The 2.0 PCI spec was released in October 2010 (and formally ratified in January 2011), but doesn't fully address the fast-rising use of mobile payment technologies.

One issue is that the standard requires physical and logical inspections, to detect when a device attaches to the network, and whether it's an authorized device. But it doesn't specify how this is done. In practice, according to Cisco, the PCI specification focuses on only one key threat: rogue wireless access points. "But it can't address [others such as] ad hoc wireless bridging, evil twin/honeypot exploits, denial of service, reconnaissance, or cracking tools," says Cisco's Chris Kozup, director, mobility and borderless networks.

To fill this gap, Cisco has created a feature called Enhanced Local Mode (ELM) for its Adaptive Wireless Intrusion Prevention System. ELM expands the number of threats that IT groups can monitor, and lets the monitoring be done with existing Cisco access points.

Previously, Cisco offered only basic rogue detection, and individual access points had to be dedicated to radio monitoring, unable to support data traffic.

With ELM active on one two-radio access point, the monitoring functions can jump from channel to channel, now able to cover all channels in both Wi-Fi frequencies (2.4 and 5 GHz), and covering a much wider range of threats. No dedicated access points or separate sensors are needed to implement a full Wi-Fi intrusion-prevention system.

Cisco also added expanded PCI-specific reporting features to its Cisco Wireless Control System (WCS). In the past, Cisco offered a general PCI compliance report. Now, WCS can create summary reports, and use filters to focus on compliance in individual locations or even individual devices. Enterprise security staff can administer reports and audits and keep a continuous eye on PCI compliance.

Using the new ELM feature with access points that make use of Cisco CleanAir technology lets IT identify access points running on non-standard channels or running proprietary extensions.

The new PCI-related features will be part of a free software upgrade to all Cisco 11n access points in late March 2011.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

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Tags securitywirelessNetworkingWi-FiPCI Security Standards CouncilWLANs / Wi-FiWi-Fi Security

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