SuperNet offers security, access

It's easy to secure a PC: Just disconnect it from other computers and lock it in a closet. Unfortunately, if that PC has to connect to public networks, the job of ensuring security gets a good deal tougher. Electronic Engineering Systems Inc. offers a two-in-one solution for users who need to work with classified data and who also need access to public networks.

The EES SuperNet 2000 EAL4/r1 system works in two modes: secure and unsecure. To operate the system in secure mode, the user must provide a physical key. When the key is in the secure position, only the removable hard drive, secure Network Interface Card and CD-ROM drive are accessible. When the key is in the unsecure position, the floppy drive, internal hard drive, CD-ROM drive and the unsecure NIC are available.

I tested a 450 MHz SuperNet 2000 PC. It isn't the smallest PC, but it is certainly more compact and easier to manage than two separate PCs. The system was easy to work with, and the removable drive used for secure mode is solidly constructed and easy to insert and remove.

It is clear that management of the system requires a disciplined approach — opening the case and rearranging components could easily render the security features of the system useless — and ESS offers training to help support personnel successfully manage it.

Because power-supply fluctuations can disable devices such as floppy drives and hard drives, I was curious to test this machine's ability to power NICs down selectively. It turns out that the NICs actually have an additional trace cut in the board that routes the power for the NIC through the key switch on the front panel.

Although flirting with the line between unsecured and secured systems and networks can invite disaster, there are times when there may be no other choice. The SuperNet 2000 is a good solution in these situations because it provides a more manageable, compact approach than using two PCs and probably creates fewer opportunities for security slip-ups.

Hammond is a Denver-based freelance writer and a program director at L7, a company that specializes in building IT infrastructure.

REPORT CARD

SuperNet 2000 EAL4/r1

Score: B+

Electronic Engineering Systems Inc.
(877) 644-2579
www.eescom.com

Price and availability: $4,090 with a 600 MHz Intel Corp. Pentium III processor, 128M of SDRAM, a Diamond V550 16M AGP video card, two 20G hard drives (one removable), a 48x CD-ROM drive, a floppy disk drive, two 3Com Corp. Network Interface Cards, a Creative Labs sound card, a 17-inch monitor, and Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT or Windows 98.

Remarks: The SuperNet 2000 EAL4/r1 provides a secure computing environment for applications requiring Common Criteria Evaluation Assurance Level 4. The SuperNet 2000 takes the place of the two computers that normally would be required to provide an environment that includes secured workstations as well as access to public networks. This can be especially handy in situations where space is critical.


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