Wireless Security: An IP VPN Conspiracy Theory

Monday, 5 August 2002, 10:27 AM EST

Because WAP was designed to work with systems other than GSM, it included some built-in encryption, but it wasn't compatible with the Internet's own encryption protocols. Converting between the two required decryption and re-encryption at a gateway, so whoever ran the gateway - usually the mobile operator - was able to read all private data.

End-to-end encryption is possible with 3G, but it breaks the proprietary compression schemes that most operators rely on to reach their hyped speeds. Encrypted data can't be compressed, a problem already experienced by dial-up users who tunnel to their corporate network through a VPN. The VPN seems more sluggish than regular Web surfing, because it can't take advantage of the compression built into most modems.

The problem is more severe with wireless networks, because compression technology has improved since modem standards were set, whereas most "3G" networks are still slower than dial up. Compression and end-to-end encryption are mutually exclusive, and you can't yet experience 3G without compression.

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