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Battening down the WLAN hatches with AirMagnet Laptop Trio

David Strom puts AirMagnet Laptop Trio Version 3 to the test.

Company name: AirMagnet Inc.
Price: $3,495 for AirMagnet Laptop Trio, other versions are less
Platforms supported: Windows 2000 and XP, Pocket PC versions also available

**** = Very cool, very useful

Key features:
The best wireless LAN protocol analyzer keeps getting better with support for additional tools and coverage mapping of your wireless territory.


  • Simple and easy to use
  • Displays access points and traffic for all three 802.11 types: a/b/g


  • Licensing the application is somewhat tricky
  • There is almost too much information to easily process


    If you need to tighten up the security on your wireless network, you need to get a copy of AirMagnet's latest forensic toolset, AirMagnet Laptop Trio. Version 3 incorporates improvements to a product that was already great.

    Wireless networks are inherently insecure beasts, and the low-priced access points and networking gear only magnify the security issues for enterprise security administrators. A user can simply install his own wireless connection and in minutes an enterprise network can be exposed to anyone in the parking lot with a wireless laptop. The trouble is, tracking down these security holes can be a full-time job, depending on the skills and tools involved.

    That is where AirMagnet Laptop Trio can help. The tool can track down these rogue access points and report on gateways that are insecure or running all but the flimsiest security protocols. The product does it with such style, grace and ease that it should be part of every security consultant's toolkit.

    I haven't seen AirMagnet for more than a year, but the improvements are dazzling. If you are serious about installing wireless networks or you want to learn more about their properties and oddities, this is the product for you. The first version ran only on PocketPCs. Now there is another version for Windows laptops running either XP or 2000, with a variety of PC wireless cards.

    I tested Laptop Trio with a supplied tri-mode 802.11ab/g card that can concurrently scan all three networks. It ran just fine on my Toshiba Tablet PC running Windows Tablet XP version. So I live dangerously, but I didn't find any problems running Tablet, and having the pen to navigate the application was a bonus. Tri-mode cards from Netgear and Proxim are also supported. You can use other cards for single 802.11b networks or for a/b combinations.

    The software is called Laptop Trio because it concurrently displays all three wireless bands in the 802.11 space: a, b and g versions. This is terrific if you are in the process of migrating from 802.11b to one of the newer network bands and you need to determine if your coverage areas that were sufficient in the land of 802.11b are working in the brave new worlds of 802.11a or g. I have found from my own experience that the different frequency sets for the newer a and g networks don't have the same radio footprints as the older b networks. Also, in some cases, the coverage areas are more limited on the newer networks.

    The coverage tool can map out the signal quality of all your access points as you walk through the office, a very valuable way to see overall performance levels and whether or not your network is actually reaching users with acceptable signal levels. My one complaint is that the documentation on this feature is somewhat lacking, as the printed manual was finished before this feature was added to the product.

    Laptop Trio includes support for 22 new alarms that will point out network weaknesses, including alarms specific to 802.11g networks. The software can identify multiple SSIDs maintained by a single wireless access point, which is useful for splitting up APs into voice and data functions.

    The product also provides tons of reports about the radio characteristics, logical links and potential vulnerabilities of wireless LANs. In fact, the tool is so chock-full of goodies that it is overwhelming at times. New to this version are tools for service-level monitoring, denial-of-service protection and signal quality. All of these show that the wireless network is becoming increasingly useful for more than just surfing a couple of Web pages from home.

    Strom-meter key:
    **** = Very cool, very useful.
    *** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool.
    ** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
    * = Don't waste your time, minimal real value.

    About the author
    David Strom is the technology editor for VARBusiness magazine. This is his last product review for, but he continues to test security and networking computer products. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on Web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him e-mail at

  • This was last published in December 2003

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