Symbol buys into stronger mobile security

Symbol Technologies Inc. wants to help secure data and applications on handheld devices via the acquisition of Trio Security Inc., a privately held software vendor in Colorado Springs, Colo., the company announced Thursday.

Symbol, which makes a variety of devices for wireless computing, barcode scanning and other mobile enterprise applications, will integrate Trio features into its mobility software and eventually into its devices, according to Lee Williams, general manager and vice-president of Symbol’s mobility software division. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Trio’s software handles user authentication and data encryption for mobile platforms. It will help to protect enterprise data and make it easier for traveling employees to roam from one type of wireless network to another, Williams said. The new capabilities, which will be introduced in steps beginning by the end of this year, will be particularly valuable to Symbol’s government and health care customers, he said.

Concerns over wireless LAN security, along with growing regulation of data security in areas including health care, are boosting interest in the security of mobile computing, according to Abner Germanow, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

Among the technologies Trio offers is software that incorporates user authentication mechanisms into a handheld device that are at least as strong as biometric methods, according to Williams, so enterprises can protect their devices from misuse in the field without the need for added hardware such as a fingerprint reader. For example, a user who wants to log in to a handheld point-of-sale device might write a signature on a touch-screen and the software could check not only the appearance of the signature but the speed of the handwritten strokes, he said. Alternatively, unique keys or multiple phrases could be required. This would help prevent unauthorized people from using the device, he said.

In addition, once a user was authenticated, the handheld could become a portable authentication device, automatically verifying the user’s identity for entry to a cellular data service or a wireless LAN as they moved from the field to the office, Williams said. Most often today, roaming requires the user to give input in an exchange with an authentication server, he said.

By the end of this year, as an enhancement to its AirBeam Safe software product, Symbol will make some Trio software elements available to enterprise developers to create their own applications. Later the company will integrate the capabilities into its Mobile Services Suite middleware to ease management. Some time next year, Symbol will integrate prebuilt authentication and encryption applications based on Trio software into its handheld devices, Williams said.

The acquisition is likely to help Symbol integrate user authentication into its devices more tightly, which would enhance security systems and make them easier to use, according to IDC’s Germanow. A critical case for this is when a mobile device is misplaced or stolen, he said.

“If a physician leaves a device in a patient’s room by mistake, all the data that’s on that device isn’t at risk” if it’s encrypted and the device requires special input for someone to use it, Germanow said. In the case of health care and some other industries, increasingly that is a legal concern for management as regulations come into play, he added.

The deal has broad implications because of the widespread use of Symbol devices in industries such as warehousing, delivery and health care, he said.

“Symbol is a very big deal in environments where you have a specialized or ruggedized handheld device,” Germanow said.

Symbol acquired Trio for its technology, its patents and its management team, Williams said. Most of the management team will move to Symbol’s San Jose facility, while some other Trio employees will be offered jobs at another Colorado-based company that was an investor in Trio, he said.

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