Mobile phone security standards coming next year

The mobile phones being sold on the shelves during the 2006 holiday season should be a lot more secure than this year’s crop, thanks to a new mobile security specification that is expected to be released in the first half of 2006.

The specification is being developed by the Trusted Computing Group, (TCG) an industry association backed by mobile vendors such as Motorola Inc., Nokia Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.

The TCG has already created standards for PCs, servers and networks designed to enable secure computing, and at last month’s Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association Wireless IT & Entertainment conference in San Francisco, the group took a step toward finalizing its mobile standard.

The TCG released a number of “use cases” that define the areas the TCG’s mobile standards are expected to cover. These documents discuss things like locking down phones so they are harder to use when lost or stolen, managing software updates and patches, and enabling secure payments via mobile devices.

Still, the hard work of actually defining the mobile specification remains to be done, according to Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, who serves on the TCG’s advisory council.

“They’re basically saying that they’re working on it,” he said of the TCG. “They’ve defined the scope of their mission and a timetable for completing it, but they haven’t defined the specifications.”

In a statement, the TCG said it expects to have a publicly available mobile phone specification ready in the first half of 2006. This means that devices supporting the specification should begin to emerge by the end of next year, Kay said.

The first mobile phones built with this security technology should be harder to use without proper authorization. As more infrastructure is built to support the TCG standards, phones will become more resistant to mobile viruses and other forms of abuse, Kay said.

As mobile phones become even more secure, they could evolve into a kind of electronic wallet that could be used to authenticate buyers and sellers in online transactions, he said.

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