Symbol Technologies has bought Trio Security to boost security of its mobile systems. Trio features will be built into Symbol's mobility software, and eventually into its devices, to handle user authentication and data encryption.

The Trio infusion will help to protect enterprise data and make it easier for travelling employees to roam from one type of wireless network to another, said Lee Williams, vice president of Symbol's mobility software division. New features will begin to appear by the end of the year.

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.

The Trio authentication software is at least as strong as biometric methods, said Williams, allowing enterprises to protect their devices in the field, without having to add 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.

Once a user is authenticated, the handheld can become a portable authentication device, automatically verifying the user's identity for entry to a cellular data service, or a wireless LAN, as they move from the field to the office, Williams said. Most often today, roaming requires the user to give information to re-authenticate to each new 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 (launched in May) to ease management. Some time next year, it will integrate pre-built 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." In the case of health care and some other industries, that is, increasingly, 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 specialised, or ruggedised, handheld device."

Symbol acquired Trio for its technology, patents and management team, Williams said. Most of that team will move to Symbol's headquarters while some other Trio employees will be offered jobs at another company that was an investor in Trio.