Cutting the Wires at Novell

Hacking Novell’s network gets you onto… the Internet

One of the big concerns about wireless networks has been security. The Proxim access points Novell uses require a network name, or password, to get onto the wireless network, says Young. That is hardcoded into Novell’s laptops, which serves to keep employees on the right network, particularly in smaller sales offices located in buildings where several companies’ wireless networks may overlap.

While the network name also keeps casual passers-by from logging on, Novell does not rely on that for security. Instead, it uses a firewall and portal to secure the corporate network, so employees — or anyone trying to hack the network, for that matter — must go through the same authentication regardless of whether they’re logging in over the wireless network or from the Internet at large.

Logging on the wireless network itself only provides access to the Internet. That’s useful for visitors: Novell can give them the password to the wireless network, so they can use their own laptops and wireless cards to get on the Internet. Without a login to the corporate portal, however, they cant access Novell’s own network, says Young.

Unlike many companies, Novell doesn’t use Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, to encrypt the data on its wireless network. That doesn’t mean the data on the network isn’t encrypted however: using the same technologies it sells to its customers, all data on the Novell network is encrypted by the applications transmitting it, regardless of whether it travels over wires or over the airwaves.

You can take it with you

Even though wireless ethernet cards are more expensive than the wired versions, Novell finds it has saved money by going to wireless, because of the high cost of running cables through the walls at new offices. “It was running us $200,000 or more to cable up a local office for 50 to 100 employees,” says Young. “Putting in wireless access points costs us about $20,000.”

What’s more, says Young, if you install cable in an office, and then have to move, that investment is gone. “With wireless,” he says, “you can move out of an office and take almost all of that $20,000 with you.”

While the cost savings are nice, the real benefits of the wireless network come from the convenience and increased productivity it gives workers. Two years after installing it, says Young, Novell workers barely even notice the wireless network. “It’s a part of everyday life which people take for granted,” he says. “When I hear about it the most is when is when our employees come back from other companies, and say, ‘I don’t know how they live without this.'”