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Buying wireless? Check your security budget

CIOs investing in mobile strategies must also fund new wireless security initiatives.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Wireless and mobile implementations are often accompanied by new wireless security risks for businesses that must be prepared to spend on preventative measures, according to John Pescatore, vice president and distinguished analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Inc.

We are starting with security and developing the rest of the system after the security is nailed down.
Meryle Rosenfeld
product marketing managerMCI Inc.

Presenting at the Gartner Wireless and Mobile Summit 2005 this week, Pescatore said that wireless LAN systems, mobile devices such as smartphones, and the convergence of mobility with voice and data all present new security risks for businesses that are already busy fending off viruses, denial-of-service attacks and other security threats on their hard-wired network.

According to a Gartner survey of 1,500 CIOs, security and mobility were among their top three concerns this year. This comes at a time when Pescatore said security spending as a percentage of the total IT budget -- now at 4% to 6% -- is peaking.

As a result, businesses need to make security a priority when implementing new mobile and wireless strategies, Pescatore said. "You can't sprinkle security on as an afterthought," he said. "Wireless security needs to be baked into plans and budgets from the beginning."

"Security is a high priority for our mobile systems," said Gerry Estell, a mobile portfolio consultant at Electronic Data Systems Corp., who attended the conference. The Plano, Texas-based outsourcer's employees use several different mobile devices and operating systems -- and all systems are evaluated for potential security vulnerabilities.

As businesses find themselves faced with an increasing variety of mobile devices and operating systems, security only becomes more complex, Pescatore said.

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Handheld devices, with multiple gigabyte hard drives or flash memory slots, can be used to copy corporate data. An employee who uses an unsecured access point at home while he is accessing the corporate network may open the entire network up to attack. Voice over Internet Protocol, which is soon to cross wireless signals with cellular systems, also opens up new vulnerabilities.

Faced with such complexity, security policies need to be part of the technology planning and stretch across multiple technologies, Pescatore said, otherwise they may be less effective and ultimately more expensive.

MCI Inc. has taken that approach with its wireless LAN system, said product marketing manager and conference attendee Meryle Rosenfeld. The Ashburn, Va., company is developing a wireless LAN system that it plans to market to businesses as a managed service. Security is the top priority. "We are starting with security," said Rosenfeld, "and developing the rest of the system after the security is nailed down."

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