N+I: Symbol adopts wireless VPN tech

Encryption for wireless systems will save cash registers from drive-by hackers, promises Symbol and security vendor Columbitech

Symbol Technologies, the leading vendor in so-called "blue collar" wireless applications such as warehousing, retail check-outs and delivery, will launch a secure component for its AirBeam wireless network management suite at Networld+Interop in Las Vegas on Monday. The announcement comes as retailers are becoming more wary of using wireless networks to link cash tills and other commerce equipment. On Wednesday, US retailer Best Buy switched off its wireless cash registers to prevent "war-drivers" (drive-by wireless hackers) from capturing credit card details taken on those cash tills. AirBeam Safe will encrypt data carried across wireless links, including 802.11b LANs and cellular networks. It will work alongside -- and also encrypt the data used by -- the existing AirBeam components; AirBeam Smart, which manages wireless clients; and AirBeam Manager, which manages wireless access points and links. The product is based on encryption technology from Swedish wireless company Columbitech, and represents Columbitech's first worldwide OEM agreement. "With 150,000 customers worldwide, Symbol is our number one partner," said Pontus Bergdahl, chief executive of Columbitech. Symbol will potentially sell Columbitech's encryption to all its customers. No price details were available at the time of writing, but Steve Mathers, vice president of marketing for Symbol's solutions division, indicated that encryption would be offered as a competitive feature in products that would essentially cost the same as other vendors' non-encrypted products. "We are being aggressive and competitive. We want to penetrate the market quickly," he said. Although Columbitech does not use the IPSec protocol that has become the most widespread standard for VPNs in office use, it uses a more suitable protocol for wireless use, explained Bergdahl. The WTLS protocol used in Columbitech's product is also a formal standard, but it was designed for WAP (wireless Application Protocol) and therefore allows roaming between access points and networks without losing connection, and is designed to make more efficient use of bandwidth because it encrypts at the session layer, Bergdahl said. Symbol is selling the system to government and military markets, where security is important. In order to do so it must ensure it is certified to meet US government standards. The relevant Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) for wireless security is FIPS 140-2, Security Requirements for Cryptographic Modules. "Another major factor is that IPSec does not work on (low spec) machines," said Mathers. Around 50 percent of Symbol portables in the field are older DOS-based machines. Although customers are moving rapidly to the Windows-based Pocket PC, offering an encryption technology that supports DOS means they can install encryption without having to migrate all their devices at once, said Mathers.

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