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The Latest Wireless Security Device May Be a Simple Paint Job

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, October 19, 2009

When we see individuals cover their heads with aluminum foil to block what they believe are malevolent wave transmissions from aliens, we tend to look upon them with some amusement, and hopefully a little compassion. 

It is somewhat ironic, however, that scientists at the University of Tokyo have recently developed an aluminum-oxide-based paint that is designed to do pretty much the same thing—stop Wi-Fi transmissions in the spaces in which it is applied. According to an item on the Yahoo! Tech Web site, the metal particles in the paint resonate with the same frequency as Wi-Fi and other radio waves, effectively preventing those waves from passing through a layer of the stuff. Waves blocked include those associated with Wi-Fi technologies, including most current wireless devices. 

On the surface, if you’ll pardon the pun, it seems like a simple and very effective security tool. Assuming this stuff actually works, you can just paint the walls of your enterprise facilities with it and nothing in the Wi-Fi band will beam out, thus preventing drive-by hacking, as well as inadvertent leaks. Of course, you’ll have to do something about your windows, if you have any, but then again I’m sure those same scientists could come up with a clear formula to coat the glass to allow the light waves to get through without compromising the security of a company’s valuable information. 

Wireless devices have, for some time, been the weakest link in any security defense strategy because they are so easily accessed. To have the ability to selectively block their transmission in designated areas would certainly be a step forward. 

There are some potential drawbacks, however. The paint not only keeps Wi-Fi signals confined to the space in which it is applied; it also prevents any such waves from entering that space. That means that in the anti Wi-Fi rooms, cell phones, smart phones, Blackberries and the like would be unable to receive the transmissions on which such devices depend. To the extent that one’s business uses these devices, the new paint formula could definitely be a problem. 

Yet there are probably solutions here as well. Perhaps companies could designate certain non-critical areas as transmission-enabled (no anti-Wi-Fi paint) so that those who needed to could use their wireless devices. The real question there, however, would be whether or not the transmission-enabled areas also constituted a security threat. The key will be to balance the Wi-Fi blocking benefits with the benefits of wireless devices that can access the company’s network.

Another potential benefit to using the paint formula could be a reduction in insurance premiums for enterprises that adopt this strategy. Policies that pay for loss of business due to hacking or inadvertent data loss could get cheaper if the Wi-Fi airwaves are more heavily guarded. 

Ultimately, however, the usefulness or uselessness of such a product will depend on a company’s policies around wireless access to its network, as well as use of such devices within the organization’s walls. It’s easy to see how this product could bolster security in certain enterprises—or cause problems in others. The end result may be a slight return to a physically-wired enterprise environment. Stay tuned.

Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at ara@aratremblytechnology.com.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

 

 

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