Mobile security needs to change with GPRS

Gap-Plugging

Does the security architecture used in mobile networks need to change? Our question is sparked by the line-up of new products from security vendors announced at this week's GSM Congress.

Check Point Software announced a wireless security product family designed to ensure secure communications and roaming between mobile operators by protecting the gateway between operators' networks

FireWall-1 GX, the first product in the family, is based on the Israeli firm's stateful inspection technology and its Secure Virtual Network (SVN) architecture. It complies with GPRS standards.

With this product, operators can prevent abnormal or malformed packets from entering their mobile IP infrastructure, monitor traffic and enforce the integrity of "hand over" connections between roaming networks.

FireWall-1 GX is now available for Linux, Solaris open servers and Nokia security appliances.

To address concerns about wireless LAN security, Internet Security Systems yesterday announced a wireless security assessment solution, Wireless Scanner. The product adds automated wireless audits to the checks for wireless threats built into its existing wired network products.

The Wireless Scanner software, which will be available in March, detects 802.11 access points from inside and outside an organisation's physical site. By listening to wireless traffic over the air, the Wireless Scanner software is able to identify the unauthorised, often unsecured access points that might permit 'drive-by hacking'.

Security assessment, which detects whether security options such as encryption and authentication are enabled and properly configured, and reporting across client machines is also provided by the product. Wireless Scanner can be installed on laptops to simulate the activity of an off-site attacker when taken offsite, or allow admins to roam around a campus in search of risks.

According to Neil Barrett, technical director of security consultancy Information Risk Management, companies need to adopt a different security architecture with mobile networks than they use for wired environments.

Firms separate internal system from their Web servers using firewalls, with Internet systems sitting in a Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), protected from the Internet itself behind other perimeter security devices. Barrett advises organisations to set up GPRS or wireless LAN connections on a separate DMZ from that used for Internet connections.

This two-tiered DMZ approach is needed to provide a degree of traceability, Barrett argues; so firms enjoy some protection from the greatest risk of mobile networks - crackers impersonating a trusted partner (after gaining access to an insecure wireless network).

Independent security consultant Phil Cracknell takes a different line to Barrett, He points out that most attacks against Web sites are perpetrated in spite of a firewall; and the same applies to wireless networks. He argues that the firewall approach is limited.

"The effectiveness of these mobile devices depends upon what client-side security and authentication is included. These mobile firewalls are simply plugging a gap that should not be present in the first place. If there was better authentication and packet-level control we wouldn't rely so heavily on the barrier mentality," he told us.

"The same applies to BlueTooth and wireless LANs as it does to GPRS - the firewall needs to be the entire network, end-points and servers not just a given point on that infrastructure. ®

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