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Financial Firms Like Wireless-Security Spec

Wireless technology can offer speed and agility in the fast-paced world of financial services, but ensuring the security of customer information and other sensitive data is a challenge. Some financial firms see promise in the emerging 802.11i security specification for wireless networks.

Security and 802.11i were popular topics at last week's "Wireless On Wall Street" summit in New York. "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," said Louis Gibaldi, VP of risk management at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. "That's our No. 1 concern."

Wachovia Corp. employees use wireless and instant messaging extensively, with BlackBerry units 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 offers a wireless service that sends account-related alerts to customers' wireless devices. "We send out about 1 million alerts a month, and our customers love that."

Wireless increases productivity for Wachovia staff, Ageenko says.

Wireless increases productivity for Wachovia staff, Ageenko says.

802.11i is a security amendment to the 802.11 standard and is designed to replace the existing Wired Equivalent Privacy specification for interoperable security in wireless networks. WEP's vulnerabilities are well known, Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney says.

Within hours, a hacker with the proper equipment and tools can collect and analyze enough data to recover the shared encryption key from WEP on a busy company network. The emergence of 802.11i, which offers enhanced security options, including support for the Advanced Encryption Standard protocol, could let more financial firms develop wireless offerings, Dulaney says. An early limited version of the standard, called Wi-Fi Protected Access, is being used by some companies as an improvement to WEP. "802.11i is still gaining traction," Dulaney says. "There's mild adoption with the number of companies currently rolling it out. It will take time."

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