Networking sales are down and the industry is finding it hard to make ends meet, but at least there’s one technology shaping for a mini-boom – SSL (Secure Sockets Layer).

This week saw Nokia add its name to the small but growing roster of vendors offering VPN remote access gateways based on the protocol with the launch of its Secure Access System. Rivals Aventail and Nortel already have products with the capability.

SSL is attracting interest because it provides organisations with an alternative to IPSec, an established VPN security encryption technology that requires a client to be loaded on each device accessing the network. By contrast, SSL lets users access corporate applications using nothing more complicated than a web browser, dramatically lowering support hassles and therefore costs.

“We’re talking about the mobility of the individual and the network’s ability to support that,” said Bob Brace, Nokia vice president of mobile communications. “An IPSec client tends to be overkill for some users.”

The downside of SSL is that not all applications can yet be accessed through a web browser, which means that some companies will still have to fall back to using IPSec.

Where Nokia’s Secure Access System scores over its current rivals, however, is by taking the SSL idea terrain beyond simply accessing networks through an encrypted access scheme. Using a Java applet, a ‘client integrity scan’ can be performed to determine the type of computer being used for access, relating this to the user’s access privileges. Access can then be adjusted appropriately – an important feature if the system detects a user working from an Internet café, to use the most extreme example.

Nokia’s Brace said the product would also spoof the SSL connection between the network and the user in a transparent way if the connection was dropped due to user inactivity.

The Secure Access System will be available from July.