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Wireless & Mobile Computing Security

Security Problems

Security is an even greater problem for wireless networks, since radio signals travel through the open atmosphere where they can be intercepted by individuals who are constantly on the move — and therefore difficult to track down. Secondly, wireless solutions are, almost universally, dependent on public-shared infrastructure where you have much less control of, and knowledge about, the security discipline employed. Horror stories of hackers scanning airwaves and siphoning off cellular ID numbers for fraudulent use have become commonplace. Even pager messages are no longer safe.

Here are some examples of common security breaches:

  • Interception of law enforcement data on SMR, private radio or CDPD networks by criminal elements
  • Interception of credit card authorizations over wireless networks
  • Physical breach of security at unmanned base stations or other communications centers.
  • Interception of e-mail messages on wireless internet connections
  • Stealing of cellular airtime

While it may not be possible to make any system completely secure, there are certain steps that can be and must be taken to ensure that the risk of security breaches is minimized.

Sources of Security Leaks
Many local exchange carriers use microwave communications for their inter-LATA calls. Since the frequencies used by carriers is public information, it is not at all difficult for an intruder to intercept both voice and data transmissions.

Even with inter-exchange circuits increasingly being converted to fiber, radio and satellite transmissions are still used by many carriers. Network providers should be asked specifically what type of circuits are used for traffic back-haul from base stations, and in particular what circuits will be used in any proposed networking solution.

Tampering with Cellular NAMs as a Security Leak
A common problem in the cellular industry is the theft of air time by individuals who make cellular calls without paying for them. These people have found a relatively easy way of pirating the numeric assignment numbers (NAMs) of valid users. Even combinations of NAM plus MAN1 or MAN2 sequences are no longer secure. PCS digital networks are somewhat more secure than analog cellular networks.

Stealing Information
It is not uncommon for individuals intent on industrial espionage to scoop up vast quantities of information by placing small scanners at appropriate locations and searching with very powerful algorithms. Credit card numbers and bank account numbers are among the most common types of information stolen. While such an effort does require determination and planning on the part of thieves, it should be remembered that often the law breaker is far more motivated than is the person in charge of security. Security system designers need to keep this in mind and to make their security arrangement as tight as the technology and the budget will allow.

Handheld (PalmOS) Security & Encryption Problem

Because of small footprint and relatively slow processor, encryption of data on client device has been a problem in the past. Two announcements In May/June 2001 address this problem. 

  • F-Secure announced Security@Hand (to ship in august 2001) will include FileCrypto software with support for Pocket PC, Symbian and Palm Os platforms. FileCrypto uses 128-bit encryption and requires a password to decrypt. Password may be administered by IT managers giving them some degree of control in large corporations.
  • In June 2001, Certicom announced movianCrypt, an enterprise-grade and efficient data encryption software for PalmTM Handhelds. Go here for more.

 

More Information on Wireless & Mobile Security

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