IBM security kit proves easy to use, affordable

You are on your way home from a business trip. At the airport, you set your briefcase down while you buy a cup of coffee. In a split second, the briefcase with your notebook PC inside is stolen. The company's insurance will cover the cost of replacing the notebook, but you are worried about the proprietary data on the hard drive.

Whether you've experienced this scenario or not, security is a growing concern for many government travelers. The good news is that IBM Corp. has developed an easy-to-use, effective and low-cost answer to portable computing security concerns: the SmartCard Security Kit.

The IBM SmartCard Security Kit is an integrated solution that can help mobile users prevent unauthorized access to their computers and the sensitive data stored on the hard drive. The kit includes a smart card reader, a smart card and smart card security software.

The smart card reader is a PC Card that installs into any Type II PCMCIA slot. The smart card, which is about the size of a credit card, slides into the smart card reader. It contains your personal identification number, a digital signature public-/private-key pair, a data encryption key and reserved digital certificate space. It also can be used in conjunction with Security Dynamics Inc.'s network security software. The smart card security software that comes in the kit is a 32-bit Microsoft Corp. PC/smart card-compatible application.

Using the smart card is similar to using a car key. Without the key, you can't start the car. Without the smart card, you can't access the computer. Once the SmartCard Security Kit is installed, you must insert the smart card into the reader and enter your PIN before you can log on.

File Encryption

In addition to preventing overall system access, the SmartCard Security Kit offers file encryption. You can encrypt one file, a group of files or all the files in a folder. Files on hard drives, mapped network folders and removable disks can be encrypted. The SmartCard Security Kit also includes a nice "autocrypt" feature: When you add a folder to the autocrypt list, the folder's contents are automatically encrypted. The files are then automatically decrypted and re-encrypted as you open and close them.

Even with the SmartCard Security Kit installed, you can share secure files with any Microsoft Windows (3.1, 95, 98 and NT) user, regardless of whether the other user has the SmartCard Security Kit installed.

Emergency Access Key

So what would happen if you were unexpectedly out sick and co-workers needed to access your machine? IBM has that covered as well. The Emergency Access Key is a code that provides the ability to log onto the system and unlock encrypted files when your smart card is inaccessible. Different people (chosen by the system administrator) hold different parts of the Emergency Access Key. Working together, these individuals can recover encrypted data.

Installation of the SmartCard Security Kit is fairly straightforward. Minimum requirements include an IBM-compatible system with at least one Type II PCMCIA slot, a 486 system that supports PCMCIA 2.1 card and socket services software, a 3.5-inch disk drive and access to a CD-ROM drive.

IBM provides a quick-reference manual and a "read first" document in hard copy format. But the more detailed administrator reference manual and user reference manual are only on CD-ROM. This could cause headaches if you have a problem with the SmartCard Security Kit while in the field and can't access the CD-ROM.

If you travel a lot and can't afford to have proprietary data fall into unknown hands, the SmartCard Security Kit provides an excellent, easy-to-use means to protect your data at a very low cost.

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SmartCard Security KitIBM Corp.(800) 426-7255www.ibm.com

Price and Availability: Available on the GSA schedule for $191 and on the open market for $199.

Remarks: Protecting sensitive data among a mobile work force is a great concern for many companies. The SmartCard Security Kit is an integrated hardware and software solution that provides fast, easy file security for mobile users. Data is encrypted or decrypted by using a unique encryption key that is stored on the smart card. The SmartCard Security Kit is an excellent tool to provide data protection on notebook PCs at a very low cost.

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