Hardware figures in the fix

Wireless security in the past was constrained by the small amounts of memory and slow processors available on handheld devices. But that's no longer the case. Pocket PCs and the more recent versions of Palm Inc.'s personal digital assistants rival the performance of the desktop PCs of just a few years ago. And next-generation handheld devices will rank as powerful computers in their own right.

At the heart of those devices will be specially designed chips that will provide high-end security.

Texas Instruments Inc.'s OMAP (formerly Open Multimedia Applications Platform, but now OMAP refers to a family of products rather than just one) has been endorsed by mobile phone makers Nokia and Ericsson and handheld computer makers Sony Corp. of America and Handspring.

OMAP will incorporate solutions from various security developers. One of those is a company called Ntru Cryptosystems Inc., which has produced technology that the company claims provides security at speeds up to 2,000 times faster than other technologies. And it uses just 2 percent of a system's resources.

"The historic limits on cryptography have been the [computing] power that's been available," said Scott Crenshaw, Ntru's chief executive officer. "Ntru technology gets over those limits, and we believe it has enough headroom to cater [to] the next 20 years of evolution in handheld devices."

It's those types of innovations that will allow Texas Instruments to produce the kind of platform that future generations of wireless devices will need, according to Sunil Hattangady, the company's program manager for wireless security.

Major elements of the needed security, such as a true random number generator, will be embedded in hardware, which in turn will ensure faster security and lower power requirements.

Other mechanisms will ensure that when a device boots up, it will only run on code that has been authenticated. That will also extend to runtime security, Hattangady said, so that if viruses get through security barriers, they won't be able to affect the device's applications and data.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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