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 thingstop 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 youll 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, youll have to do something about your windows, if you have any, but then again Im 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 companys 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 ones 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 companys 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 companys policies around wireless access to its network, as well as use of such devices within the organizations walls. Its easy to see how this product could bolster security in certain enterprisesor cause problems in others. The end result may be a slight return to a physically-wired enterprise environment. Stay tuned.
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