Shrinking hardware, tighter security

From miniature PCs to watches that receive live data, one trend at the CeBit America conference in New York last month was tiny hardware. In addition, wireless technology is still hot, with an emphasis on wireless security. But good, old-fashioned hardware security hasn't gone out of style.

OQO ultrapersonal computer

If your notebook computer doesn't fit into your shirt pocket, have no fear: The ultrapersonal computer (uPC) is here. Made by OQO Inc., the device is basically a desktop PC shrunk to the size of the typical personal digital assistant (PDA). The uPC runs Microsoft Corp.'s Windows XP and boasts a 1 GHz processor. Unlike PDAs, however, the display is oriented horizontally. All of this is contained in a package weighing 14 ounces and measuring 4.9 inches by 3.4 inches by 0.9 inches.

In travel mode, the 5-inch, 800 x 480 transflective screen covers one side of the device. For use, the screen slides upward to reveal a thumb keyboard and clickable track point. The keys are spaced far enough apart that typing is comfortable. A digital pen is an alternative to the keyboard.

The uPC offers full desktop PC functionality, although the 20G hard drive is smaller and the 256M of memory is slightly less than that of the average new desktop or notebook PC. But it offers plenty of capacity for the average user.

Thanks to USB, Bluetooth and FireWire, the uPC is compatible with peripherals such as printers, keyboards, mice and full-sized monitors. It also offers 802.11b wireless capability. Built-in ports include a headphone jack and multimedia controller jack.

An included docking cable enables users to connect to Ethernet networks and LCD projectors for presentations. In addition, a desktop stand props the device in a comfortable viewing position for office use.

Other bells and whistles include hard-drive protection technology that senses a freefall and prepares the device for the impact and an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight.

The uPC will be available this summer and will cost less than $2,000. Visit www.oqo.com for more information.

Silicon Data Vault

Medieval castles were protected from intruders by walls many feet thick, but many also had a moat as an extra layer of protection. If today's hard drives are yesterday's castles, the new Silicon Data Vault (SDV) from Secure Systems International LLC is the moat.

The SDV is a piece of hardware that sits between the hard drive and the BIOS, also known as the Basic

Input/Output System, and prevents unauthorized access not only to the hard drive but also to the operating system. It shuts out hackers by closing operating system backdoors or vulnerabilities. The device also minimizes the risk of boot sector virus infection.

The SDV allows you to create up to 32 partitions on your hard drive. Each partition is secured with a unique key using 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard. Administrators can manage access to the partition on the fly within the operating system using the company's patented partition-management software. The keys are never stored in plain text on the system.

You can use the SDV with any operating system, and there are versions for both desktop and notebook PCs. The desktop version is a PC card that plugs into the hard drive's existing Integrated Drive Electronics channel and has no electrical connection to the motherboard. For notebooks, the SDV hard-drive assembly replaces the existing hard drive. It also plugs into the IDE channel of the original hard drive.

Features include operating system backup and restore functions; BIOS and CMOS backup and verification; an audit log with an unlimited number of user profiles; and the ability to recover from a lost or damaged SDV.

The laptop version of the SDV costs $1,000, and the desktop version sells for $850. For more information, visit www.securesystems.com.au.

Yellowjacket

Similar to hard drives, airwaves that carry wireless networking signals are vulnerable to intrusion and hacking. The Yellowjacket 802.11b/g Wi-Fi analysis system from Berkeley Varitronics Systems Inc. steps into this scenario.

Yellowjacket analyzes and finds the direction of a radio frequency (RF) spectrum protocol. Its calibrated receiver sweeps and measures all RF energy in the 2.4 GHz range. It also sweeps each of the 14 Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing/ Direct-Sequence Spread Spectrum channels for detailed network inspection of any nearby 802.11b/g wireless access point. The network-independent system can pinpoint channel interference and hackers. It can also locate rogue access points.

The Yellowjacket wireless transceiver module interfaces with the Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaq 5000 series to sweep, analyze and optimize 2.4 GHz wireless networks. With the optional internal Global Positioning System receiver and Berkeley's Bird's Eye software, the system can map wireless networks.

You can use Bird's Eye in conjunction with AutoCAD software to plot office access points and layouts. This way, you can save and print color plots of the data.

Yellowjacket is mindful of network security with its ability to authorize or unauthorize up to 1,000 Media Access Control addresses, automatically generate a valid access point list and flag invalid access points as suspect.

The system costs $4,200 with the GPS receiver, and the Bird's Eye software, sold separately, costs $2,500. For more information, visit www.bvsystems.com.

MSN Direct smart watch

As if PDAs weren't small enough, Microsoft officials have introduced a service called MSN Direct that will beam information to a wristwatch.

The information you can receive includes news, weather, sports scores and stock quotes. The watch also synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook's calendar so you can view your appointments and datebook entries. You can even receive personal messages. By the way, it also tells time.

The MSN Direct service is delivered through Microsoft's DirectBand network, a wide-area network based on FM radio technology. This means you don't need to be near an access point or hot spot to get service — you're connected anywhere there is FM radio service.

The service is part of the company's Smart Personal Objects Technology. The idea is to make everyday objects smarter instead of designing entirely new devices. The smart objects, as Microsoft officials call them, contain a low-cost, low-power,

communication-enabled chipset.

Users can personalize the information they receive by visiting a Web page and making the desired selections. For security, each Smart Watch has a unique identification number, so it receives only the information specified by the user. In addition, all information is encrypted with a unique key.

Coverage includes more than 100 major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada. One year of service costs $59.

MSN Direct has partnered with watchmakers Fossil Inc. and Suunto USA, which offer smart watches in several styles that range in price from $129 to $299.

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