3GSM - New capabilities drive mobile security demands

Future applications are driving demand for security mechanisms in mobile phones

The growing functionality of mobile phones -- which in the future could be used to unlock doors and make credit-card purchases -- is driving demand for new and stronger security products, companies exhibiting at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona said.

"It's a matter of devices becoming more and more like mobile computers," said Ofir Zukovsky, sales director, software solutions for Discretix, a developer of security products including authentication key management, cryptography and content protection employed by mobile phone chip makers.

Users may become particularly conscious of security on their phones as they begin to use them for more personal applications. Even currently available applications, such as camera phones, open the door to potentially damaging security problems. Photos of family members stored on a phone in combination with other personal information could enable certain kinds of identity-theft crimes, said Zukovsky.

Future applications that might store a user's fingerprint or passport identification information could also lead to potential problems if a user's phone is stolen or broken into, said George Minassian, vice president of strategic planning and systems engineering for Spansion's wireless division.

Spansion's technology resides in the Flash memory of a phone. One of its offerings aims to protect users as they download more and more applications to their phones. The technology would allow users to choose to download a new application or piece of content into a secure area. If the application contains malicious code, it can't damage the rest of the phone and users can easily delete it, Minassian said.

A similar offering would allow users to take photos with their camera phone and opt to store the photo in a secure area. User's might want to use the feature for photos of family members, for example. They'll need to enter a password in order to access the photo in the future.

Spansion is offering the technologies but they so far haven't been deployed by handset makers.

Both Spansion and Discretix promoted security at the hardware level, rather than suggesting that end users rely primarily on antivirus software. While antivirus software is easy to install, the fact that it is software means it can be corrupted by hackers and it can also slow performance of devices, Minassian said. Hardware or firmware-based solutions are harder to corrupt, he said.

However, one downside to the technologies offered by Discretix and Spansion is that they must be adopted by chip makers and then phone manufacturers, a process that could take two years, Minassian said. "We're protecting for when the mobile wallet comes out. We have to predict the applications," he said.

Discretix is promoting at 3GSM its DRM (digital rights management) offering, which will be used in Motorola's newest Z8 phone and which Opera Software ASA announced it will integrate into its mobile browser. The product supports several DRM systems, including those from Microsoft and NTT DoCoMo.

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Nancy Gohring

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