Pair of PC security products keep data, Net access under lock and key


October 07, 2004

Statistics show that the theft of portable computers continues to be on the rise. And while that might not be so surprising, what might cock an eyebrow is learning that it's not the loss of the equipment itself that is of major concern.

Oh sure, the computer has some value, and loss because of its theft is part of the problem. But the real value of these stolen computers lies within the data they contain. The costs associated with the theft of computer data are literally hundreds if not thousands of times more valuable.

Data encryption is one way to insure that your computer's information stays protected from prying eyes. But most encryption products require the owner to remember passwords. Too often people choose easy to remember passwords such as their birth date or dog's name; by doing so, they unwittingly sacrifice the security of the data they are trying to protect.

Choosing an actual English word leaves your protection open to things like dictionary attacks. The only way to insure that a password will not succumb to being guessed is to choose one that isn't a real word. But the problem with cryptic passwords is that they are difficult to remember, especially if you need to keep track of several different ones.

However, another solution is to use a physical key that will unlock your computer's information. Two are available from Griffin Technologies.

The first version is called the SecuriKey ($149). The SecuriKey looks much like one of those USB flash memory drives that plugs into any available USB 1.1 or 2.0 port. But instead of containing memory, the SecuriKey contains a sophisticated decryption key that will give you access to your computer's data.

Using the included software, you install and configure the SecuriKey. You can designate that the entire hard drive be encrypted but Griffin recommends that you designate specific folders to be classified as confidential. While the key is inserted, you have full access to the information contained within these folders. In fact, they will appear completely normal to you or any application that wants to access their files. But when the key is removed, nothing within the specified folders will be available.

Other convenient options for your desktop computer let you unplug the key while the computer remains on. That way you can easily leave your computer unattended knowing the sensitive data is safe. Upon return, you can just plug it back in to regain access.

The SecuriKey package comes with two physical USB keys and software that works on both Windows and Macintosh OS X systems.

For families concerned more about what sites their children visit on the Internet, Griffin offers the ControlKey ($59.99). It uses the same "ignition-key" principle, but allows parents to limit access to specific Web addresses when it is not inserted; access to other sites only is possible when the key is inserted. ControlKey is available for the Windows platform only, and comes with a single key.

If you're looking for an effective way to keep your precious data secure without the hassles associated with memorizing complex passwords, either of these products may just be your solution. And if you lose all of your keys for either product, Griffin will make you a new key at a nominal charge if you have registered the product.

Knight Ridder/Tribune

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