The security behind Wi-Fi on the London Underground

By Stuart Sumner
03 Oct 2012 View Comments
A passenger uses Wi-Fi on the London Underground powered by Virgin Media

Identity and access management firm Enline has revealed the details of the security solution underpinning Virgin Media's new Wi-Fi service on the London Underground.

The service itself went live in 72 stations by the time the Olympics began earlier this year.

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Ben Bulpett, alliances and enterprise account director at Enline, told Computing that his firm advised Virgin Media that the best way to run the security governing access to the Wi-Fi was to run it as a service.

"We discussed running identity and access management as platform as a service and identity as a service, rather than building it directly into the applications," said Bulpett.

Enline, an Oracle partner, used entitlements management tool Oracle Entitlement Server (OES) as part of its solution.

"We used OES, because rather than having the back-end systems take decisions over whether a user is entitled to the service, we felt it would be better to externalise that," explained Bulpett.

The main challenge was that the telecommunications systems underpinning the Wi-Fi service had emerged from a mish-mash of dozens of cable companies that had merged over 20 years, Bulpett said.

"There were lots of back-end systems all with separate databases and directories, which had never been designed to be joined together. So we aggregated those systems to form a single view of each user," he said.

This platform as a service, or "identity as a service" as Bulpett described it, placed a virtual directory layer over these disparate back-end systems, providing one view of every user who had entitlement to the Wi-Fi connectivity.

"The virtual directory layer has a view of who you are, which is built up from the architecture joining up all the other separate databases. Externalising it improves its performance, and when you put it into OES it defines whether you get the Wi-Fi service or not.

"If you're a Virgin Media customer you get it for free, otherwise it's chargeable," explained Bulpett.

The Wi-Fi service went live in July, servicing one million users, with an average of 800,000 sessions per day. In fact, the solution has been so successful that Virgin Media is now considering expanding it into other commercial offerings, Bulpett revealed.

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