Handheld VPNs in the works

It should come as no surprise that security is a major concern for Environmental Protection Agency officials as they plan to give inspectors in the field wireless access — via handheld devices — to data stored behind the agency's firewall.

"Security is the big concern for most enterprises developing handheld wireless strategies," said Alex Slawsby, an analyst who covers "smart" handheld devices for IDC.

The best way to secure such access would be to use virtual private network technology, which sets up an encrypted tunnel between two computers on a network, Slawsby said. But there are not many VPN products available for the handheld environment, due in large part to the particular difficulties posed by the platform.

"A VPN relies on a client application that has to work together with the server to calculate the encryption keys and create the handshake," Slawsby said. "It's much easier to do it on a desktop PC than on a handheld device that has much less processing power and battery power."

Slawsby expects more VPN solutions for handheld devices to be introduced during the next year, including products from the companies that develop the two most popular handheld operating systems. Microsoft Corp. is working on a VPN solution that might debut with the next version of its Pocket PC operating system, and Palm Inc. is also looking to add one to its next version of the Palm OS, Slawsby said.

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