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Wi-Fi blocking debate far from over

Bob Brown | Aug. 31, 2015
US$750K fine levied against Smart City by FCC for WiFi blocking has WLAN pros, vendors talking again.

Among the things Badman’s peers are worried about or are wondering about:

*Does using frequency blocking material in building design constitute WiFi blocking in a passive way?

*Does getting end users to agree to acceptable use policies (AUPs) protect WLAN operators from getting busted for WiFi blocking?

*How can the de-auth/mitigation tools sold by WLAN vendors be used legally? 

Some users would also like to see WLAN vendors band together and get clearer answers about what customers can and can’t do in terms of WiFi security and management. And in fact, some vendors have been working at least in the hospitality industry to come up with best practices for successful WiFi deployments. The Hotel Technology Next Generation association, which includes Marriott among its members, issued a WiFi roadmap in April, that while only touching on the topic of blocking tools, looks like it has some potential to help organizations stay on the right side of the law. (Meanwhile, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a hospitality industry group that sided with Marriott’s right to block users of personal Wi-Fi hotspots, claims to have formed a Cybersecurity Task Force but did not reply to my inquiries earlier this month about whether the task force has in fact been formed or accomplished anything yet.)


One WLAN vendor that isn’t shying away from the WiFi blocking topic is Xirrus. CEO Shane Buckley told me this week that: “Our feedback to the FCC has been please, please, please look at this very carefully. There are lots of good reasons why WiFi blocking is a requirement in certain markets and a distinct benefit from a security perspective in others.”

Xirrus CEO Shane Buckley
Xirrus Xirrus CEO Shane Buckely: "There are lots of good reasons why WiFi blocking is a requirement in certain markets..."

Buckley suggests that the FCC should allow Wi-Fi blocking at least in the interim, and then “re-open the discussion on the use of this technology and clarify when its use is practical and acceptable. Wi-Fi vendors also need to collaborate to come up with better security mechanisms in public Wi-Fi networks.” He acknowledges that the topic is complicated given that we're talking about unlicensed spectrum that's free for anyone to use.

Xirrus is especially passionate about K-12 schools being able to use WiFi blocking (rogue AP protection/mitigation) to protect students from accessing unfiltered Internet content – protections that the schools have put in place to comply with federal laws designed to safeguard children. Though Buckley says this could also apply to public access Wi-Fi environments, such as cafes, airports and public libraries where you don’t want people potentially “displaying illicit content on their devices” in full view of others.


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