Experts: Wi-Fi needs more security against hackers

ATLANTA - Wireless communication leaders gathered at Georgia Tech on Tuesday to discuss how they'll fight security threats in their rapidly growing industry.

More than 200 experts and executives from companies, including BellSouth and Cingular Wireless, spoke of the increased need for security as the "wireless revolution" gains momentum.

About 71 percent of U.S. households have cell phones, according to data from Forrester Research. Some 5.3 million households have wireless and Internet access, and the number of Wi-Fi hotspots in the United States increased by 400 percent last year.

The same security challenges which have plagued Internet users - identity theft, spam and phishing attacks - are expected to migrate to wireless communication.

Among the most vulnerable are Wi-Fi networks, which can be set up in homes, businesses and restaurants, enabling consumers to send instant messages or surf the Web.

Wi-Fi networks are generally easier for hackers to breach than the wireless networks cell phones use. It's possible for thieves to eavesdrop on communications across Wi-Fi networks as they try to steal personal information wireless users.

Mustaque Ahamad, director of the Georgia Tech Information Security Center, said industry stakeholders, from companies to consumers, need to realize the security threat is real.

One concern is how much of a role consumers will play in the development of wireless security technology.

Some discussion Tuesday focused on the belief that wireless users generally don't want to work for improved security; they want companies to provide it to them, Ahamad said.

The Georgia Tech Information Security Center has taken a lead role in the challenges facing the wireless communications industry. The Center includes faculty from the College of Computing, the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs.