Expert warns on wireless security in Asia

Fast growth in wireless Internet use leaves users vulnerable to data theft over unsecured networks

The fast growth in wireless Internet use throughout Asia leaves users vulnerable to data theft over unsecured networks and lost or stolen mobile devices, a security expert warned Tuesday.

Citrix Systems Inc. Chief Security Officer Kurt Roemer said during an interview that trends in Asia suggest increasing vulnerability as time goes on because wireless use is growing much faster than fixed-line use in many countries.

Japan, for example, is a global leader in developing 3G (third-generation) mobile networks and applications, which is increasing demand for smarter phones that can handle more data and computing work -- the kind that increases the likelihood of stolen data.

Taiwan is another example. At one point, there were more mobile phone accounts than people on the island, and the propensity to live wirelessly has prompted the government to implement a plan to ensure wireless Internet access via Wi-Fi and WiMax networks islandwide over the next few years.

And in developing countries such as China and India, there are more wireless networks going up than fixed-line networks, a danger because fixed-line networks are easier to secure.

As mobile applications increase, and people use mobile networks more and more often to log onto the Internet for work and play, Roemer sees the danger of users failing to protect themselves. He reckons the smartest solution for companies and Internet service providers is to take proactive steps to protect users, and keep user tasks simple.

Wi-Fi helped popularize the idea of taking a laptop to the coffee shop, or using one in an airport on wireless networks that might not be secured, while WiMax, the wireless standard to follow Wi-Fi, will likely increase such activity. Mobile telecommunications network operators are also offering more high speed Internet connection options for Internet users, such as HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access).

Workers in the field trying to send data back or access sensitive company data need security they can handle without too many time consuming tasks and protocols. "The more you make your users have to think about it, the worse it gets," he said.

Citrix, Fortinet, Foundry Networks, and other companies sell software that helps secure company networks no matter where a user logs on. And there are varying levels of security, depending on how much access different users need to company data, as well as for other considerations, such as complexity and cost.

The dangers for IT managers are only going to grow, due to the quick expansion of wireless networks and devices worldwide, he said.

Mobile devices themselves are also cause for security concern. Hard drive memory space is growing so fast that users can keep an awful lot of sensitive information on one device, he said. Losing such a machine, or having it stolen can really create problems.

One way for companies to secure devices is by removing hard drives from the equation, he said. IT managers can buy thin client notebook PCs, for example, that store data on a server back at company headquarters instead of offering workers laptops with huge hard drives. Roemer suggested Neoware as one company with a strong line of thin client products.

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