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3/21/2005
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Wireless Security Top Concern For Financial Companies

While wireless technology can offer speed and agility in the fast-paced world of financial services, top challenges include dealing with the complexities of network integration, access points, and security.

Monday's second annual "Wireless On Wall Street" summit in New York gathered a diverse crowd of business and technology professionals from banks, brokerages, and insurance companies of all sizes. Yet they all shared a common goal: secure and uncomplicated deployment of wireless technologies.

While wireless technology can offer speed and agility in the fast-paced world of financial services, top challenges include dealing with the complexities of network integration, access points, and security. "Wireless will allow many more people to get access. But what we need to do in the financial industry is to ensure that data is protected. That's our No. 1 concern," said Louis Gibaldi, VP of risk management at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Among the attendees was Wachovia Corp., an extensive user of wireless and instant messaging among internal employees, with BlackBerry devices being the most popular wireless device. "This adds a lot of productivity to our staff," said Ilieva Ageenko, director of emerging enterprise applications at Wachovia.

The bank also has a "push" model in place for customers, meaning it can automatically send account-related alerts to their wireless devices. "We send out about 1 million alerts a month, and our customers love that," Ageenko said.

But to effectively deploy wireless services, financial-services companies first have to plant a large-scale network that meets banking security measures. The real challenge lies in managing that wireless network once it has been deployed, said Geoff Smith, director of technical services at Aruba Wireless Networks.

The need for a fully authenticated, encrypted wireless network remains high, summit attendees said. Financial-services companies are under constant pressure from customers and employees to implement wireless technology because of the convenience it offers. However, many are worried about the public implementation of the technology and the confidentiality of their data. "We really need properly configured access points," one risk manager said during a panel discussion.

Configuring access points will take care of some of the technology issues associated with wireless deployment, Smith said. "Access points are becoming merely a radio managed by a device. In the near future, we'll see the aggregation of access points, which means access points will come down in cost and complexity," he said.

Although the next-generation of wireless technologies like authenticated networks are under consideration by some financial-services companies, others are still concerned about what to do with existing legacy networks that so many of them still have in place today. "If we're going to reinvent the wheel with wireless, replacing legacy networks becomes expensive. We need solutions that are going to make wireless secure for the networks we already have," Gibaldi said.

It's still unclear whether or not the financial-services industry is ready for widespread adoption of wireless, as security issues remain a major concern for most companies. But the consensus is that it's not enough just to secure the airspace and the networks surrounding financial-services companies. The physical infrastructure, which includes systems, applications, and even employee laptops, must be secured as well to prevent WiPhishing and to prevent hackers from setting up hot-spots to attract access points, in addition to other risks and attacks.

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