Encrypted communications take center stage

Security has passed cloud services become the most important IT issue this year in Germany

The first Cebit trade show in the post-Snowden era will focus on security, showing off locally developed bug-proof phones and messaging systems, as well as the ability to protect mobile devices using smartcards.

The continued revelations from former U.S. government contractor Edward Snowden about National Security Agency snooping have helped security become the most important IT issue this year in Germany, relegating cloud computing to second place, according to a recent survey from local industry organization Bitkom. European security vendors see the revelations, right or wrong, as a golden opportunity to differentiate their products from competing U.S. offerings.

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About 500 security companies will show off their products in Hanover next week. The line-up includes German vendors SecuSmart, Digittrade and Datev.

SecuSmart's profile has been raised considerably since German Chancellor Angela Merkel started using the company's SecuSuite for BlackBerry 10 to protect her communications. The product was launched at Cebit last year and encrypts both phone calls and data communications. It uses a microSD card with 4GB of flash memory for storing encrypted documents, and a smartcard chip that performs the encryption.

This year the company will announce a complete portfolio of anti-eavesdropping products, including the SecuGate LV telephony system and SecuBridge for secure telephone conferencing.

Alternatives to messaging apps such as WhatsApp will also be on display at Cebit. In the aftermath of Facebook's acquisition of the company Thilo Weichert, data protection commissioner in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, said users should switch to a more secure messaging service.

Digittrade is premiering the Chiffry smartphone app, which has encrypted messaging and telephony.

Just like Motorola boasts that the Moto X is made in the U.S. and Apple stamps "designed in California" on its products, SecuSmart and Digittrade are eager to tell users their products are from Germany.

"Made in Germany is a seal of quality which is gaining great popularity in foreign countries at the moment. IT-security solutions from Germany are in demand worldwide" a spokeswoman for SecuSmart said via email.

To what extent this will be a successful tactic remains to be seen, but Steve Blood, a vice president at Gartner who focuses on VoIP, unified communications and collaboration, isn't convinced it will make a big difference.

"I think there is a lot of FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] related to this," Blood said.

However, with the growing reliance on Internet communications, there are legitimate security concerns and enterprises need to think about how to protect themselves, according to Blood.

"Our recommendation is that enterprises should be looking for services with integrated encryption rather than first setting up a VPN connection and then running communications inside it," Blood said.

Mobile security isn't just about encryption -- access to devices and applications also need to be protected. Alternatives to traditional PIN codes have recently been getting a lot of attention, as Apple and Samsung use fingerprint recognition and LG offers knock codes, a feature lets users knock a pattern on the screen to unlock it.

At Cebit, Datev will put a new spin on an old technology: the smartcard reader. Because mobile OSes are not equipped to support smartcards, the company has developed the mIDentity air card reader, which connects to smartphones and tablets using Bluetooth. Integration with Apple's iPad will be demonstrated at the show, which takes place between March 10 and March 14.

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