Separation Anxiety as New Form of Handset Security
By Eric Lin, Mon Jul 19 23:15:00 GMT 2004

As handsets get smarter and more feature-rich, the information stored on them increases in value. Superwave has announced a new security system to keep that valuable data safe from thieves.


Cases of high profile business men losing their PDA or Blackberry have been well publicized over the past few years, raising concerns among corporate security experts about PDAs and other mobile computing devices. PDAs may be falling out of vogue, but these same executives are now moving that critical information to their mobile phones. Now that you can store money on your cell phone in Japan, even more "valuable" data is there than ever before. To prevent this data from falling into the wrong hands (or anyone else's hands, for that matter), Superwave has developed a low power radio security system for mobile devices.

A mobile phone and its owner would each have a matching low power radio unit transmitting a weak signal to each other over a short distance. (Imagine each phone comes with a matching ring or other piece of radio-enabled jewelry.) As the distance between the handset and the user-worn responder grows, the phone could issue warnings, shut down certain functions (like the FeLiCa chip if there is one, and eventually render the phone useless once it is out of range. Some gun manufacturers have been exploring a similar system for law enforcement sidearms. Ironically, it uses contactless IC chips (just like FeLiCa) embedded in a ring and a reader in the pistol's grip to assure that only the officer wearing the ring can fire the gun. However since Superwave's system uses a weak radio to allow the device to work within a proximity, they have been awarded patents in both the US and Japan. Of course, they'll have on their hands since researchers in the UK have created a similar security system using Bluetooth.

Phone manufacturers have been trying to secure handsets with passwords, fingerprint readers, and probably a few other stranger technologies as well. None of these systems are optimal or foolproof. Forcing users to take extra time or steps to unlock their handsets usually leads to them turning security features off, no matter how valuable the data on their device may be. Systems like Superwave's that don't require any user input could help corporate security experts everywhere. Security without effort or lost time is security people will actually use. It will be even better if one user wearable device could unlock a number of devices, so laptops, handsets, PDAs or whatever gadgets may come next could all be unlocked with a single transponder, instead of a pocket full or fistful of dongles.