Check Point launches firewall for GPRS networks

Tapping into a new market, Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. will unveil its first product for securing data-centric mobile-phone networks at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes on Wednesday.

The software, dubbed FireWall-GX1, protects the IP (Internet Protocol) infrastructure a mobile phone operator needs to offer data services over a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or 3G (third-generation) network. It is the first product in a new Check Point wireless security product family, said Jerry Ungerman, Check Point’s president, in an interview.

“The advent of data services is moving operators to look at security. FireWall-GX1 is to provide the beginnings of what is going to secure the wireless networks worldwide,” Ungerman said, adding that the firewall product was developed by Check Point in close cooperation with partner and network vendor Nokia Corp. and several operators.

GPRS is an add-on for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) mobile-phone networks that allows wireless packet-based data transmissions at about the speed of a conventional PC modem. GPRS networks are being launched around the world. 3G networks, expected to be widely deployed within a couple of years, allow much faster data-transfer rates.

FireWall-1GX prevents malformed and potentially malicious data packets from entering the operator’s network, enforces the integrity of connections when handed off between networks, and monitors traffic and provides tracking for troubleshooting and tracing of intrusion attempts, Check Point said. The software is available for Nokia’s platform, while support for other platforms will be available soon, Check Point said.

Mobile data networks need protection, as “the threat is the same as in the wired world,” according to Ungerman. “So far the wireless world has been voice, now it is becoming data. You’ve got hackers and data being transferred. That is why operators are looking at security now.”

One of the world’s largest mobile phone operators has already installed the firewall software on some of its systems, Ungerman said. He declined to name the operator, but hinted that it could be Vodafone Group PLC of the United Kingdom. That could mean a swift start in a new market where Check Point has identified 300 prospective customers.

“Our preliminary indications are that there are over 300 wireless carriers in the world that could each buy US$1 million of product from us, so we are looking at a $300 million market initially,” Ungerman said. “Spending by carriers will be about $1 million on average, and that is a conservative estimate. This is something they can afford, it is a small percentage of their capital spending (for data services).”

Bernt Ostergaard, director at analyst firm Giga Information Group Inc., said a firewall makes sense, but wonders if it will be effective.

“The product announcement sounds logical. We’re going to have data transferred on a GPRS network, so we need a firewall. There is no doubt a need for security and some kind of firewalling is needed, but I am not convinced that the architectural decision is right,” said Ostergaard. “It is dangerous to make an analogy between fixed systems and wireless systems.”

Installing firewall software in front of an operator’s IP infrastructure is merely the start, according to Ungerman.

“This is only a piece of the puzzle. There is a lot more technology we will bring to the market that will secure the entire wireless world, including down to the handset,” he said. “When we get to 3G and to a true data device with enough bandwidth where you will download data, that’s when you will need full-blown security.”

Check Point is preparing VPN (Virtual Private Network) clients and firewall software for use in 3G handsets and devices. This software will likely be preinstalled on most handsets, but activation will cost a service fee charged by the operator, Ungerman said, a service he expects to draw mainly corporate users.

“This will start in the corporate world. The vast majority of phones are company paid. I don’t think the consumer will adopt secured phones first,” he said. “The customer will be looking at the security of the operator and operators will be touting that they have a secure platform. It will be similar to what is going on in the broadband space today.”

Ostergaard suggested that Check Point should be looking at protecting individual services, not wireless data as a whole.

“The focus in mobile devices will be so much on services. You’re not going to buy GPRS because it gives you high speed Internet access, but because it has a good application. This is a different kind of traffic than what you would have on an edge device on a corporate network,” Ostergaard said.

On the valuation of the market, Ostergaard said that he is “sure that the global market could be US$300 million,” but that he is “also sure that there won’t be a single dominant player because of the number of manufacturers involved in the GPRS platforms.”

Check Point Software, in Redwood City, Calif., can be reached at