F-Secure offers encryption and anti-virus for handhelds

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F-Secure Corp. is in the midst of a software rollout that by September will bring anti-virus and encryption capabilities to three popular handheld operating systems: Palm OS, Pocket PC and the Symbian OS.

The rollouts are intended to help round out F-Secure's line of security tools for mobile users by addressing Web-enabled cellular phones and handhelds, which F-Secure contends are on the verge of large-scale deployment for enterprise use.

Citing figures from the research firm International Data Corp., F-Secure says 12.9 million intelligent handheld devices were sold last year. Gartner Group predicts more than 250,000 of them will be left behind or lost at airports across the U.S. this year, highlighting the need for encryption on the devices.

At the same time, viruses are starting to emerge for handheld devices. To date, at least six Trojan horse viruses have been detected for the Symbian OS (formerly EPOC), while two viruses (one of them a Trojan) were identified for the Palm OS, according to F-Secure.

Meanwhile, major players in the wireless market are starting to deliver on so-called 2.5G technology, says Christopher Vargas, president of F-Secure, Inc., the San Jose, Calif.-based subsidiary of F-Secure Corp., which is based in Finland. These new devices offer always-on connectivity at speeds up to 64K bps, thus increasing the need for solid security.

F-Secure is responding with three software suites, F-Secure for Pocket PC, F-Secure for Palm OS and F-Secure for Symbian OS. Each contains an anti-virus package as well as encryption software.

Two of the products - Anti-Virus for Palm OS and FileCrypto for Symbian OS - were announced within the last few weeks. The remainder will be announced over the next four to 10 weeks, with general availability scheduled for the third quarter or early fourth quarter, at latest.

All the products can be centrally managed from F-Secure's Policy Manager, enabling IT managers to dictate the policies end user devices follow, Vargas says. That enables managers to determine which files are to be encrypted and whether anti-virus software runs upon synchronization with a host machine, on demand or in the background, for example.

The encryption packages are all based on the Blowfish algorithm at 128 bits or higher. They encrypt files in selected source folders before storing them and decrypt each file as it is opened, both with no user intervention. The time required for either process is imperceptible to users, Vargas says. Users log in to the device with a PIN. If the PIN is entered incorrectly, users must enter a pass-phrase to access the device.

Anti-virus products scan for viruses in email messages, attachments and removable media. The Pocket PC and Palm versions automatically conduct a scan each time the device syncs with a host PC. Scanning can also be manually invoked at any time.

F-Secure has also announced a number of partnerships over the past several weeks, including one with Nokia to provide content security for devices using the Symbian OS. F-Secure likewise is a member of the Symbian Embedded Technology Partner program, which enables F-Secure engineers to closely with Symbian in developing security technology for the platform and to engage in co-marketing campaigns.


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