Software gives remote workers secure access

Plethora Technology Inc. has unveiled an integrated suite of security and office productivity software that the company believes could help federal agencies meet telework requirements and demands to keep operating in case of natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Agencies are looking for ways to give remote employees secure access to agency networks as they attempt to comply with legislation mandating that eligible employees have the option to work from home or telecommute by 2004.

Agencies also are under pressure to develop plans to maintain operations in case a natural disaster or terrorist attack disrupts or destroys primary networks. This includes plans for employees who can't reach the office to have access to networks.

But providing secure access can require agencies to deploy numerous servers and integrate software for secure file transfer and collaboration, said Ben Martindale, Plethora's chief executive officer.

To address that issue, Plethora, a 3-year-old company based in Columbia, Md., last month introduced Perspective, secure remote computing software that allows users anywhere access to corporate assets. By downloading a Java-based application, remote users can access the information resources they are authorized to communicate with, including co-workers, server-based data and resources, and PC-based files and applications, Martindale said.

Authorized information technology staff can define all permissions and settings on the Perspective server, located at an agency's central office. The server is where the user authentication process takes place. So, an organization can control which users can connect to the network and what they can do, regardless of their location.

"All of this is doable with" virtual private networks or FTP servers, Martindale said. But those approaches "are not easy for a large percentage of people to install."

Instant messaging, text conferencing, file access and exchange, virtual private networking, and remote control of other PCs are integral features in Perspective, he said.

Perspective performs all of those tasks without requiring users to pre-install encryption keys on their PCs or laptops, which could be used to break into a user's account if the client machine is stolen or compromised.

No security-relevant data such as passwords or encryption keys are ever stored on the client PC hard drives or sent across the network, Martindale said. Network traffic is fully encrypted using a Federal Information Processing Standard 140-1 validated encryption algorithm.

This security feature is one reason why the Energy Department is using the software for telework and workforce continuity, Martindale said. Energy officials could not give more details.

"Agencies we have spoken with have expressed a lot of interest" in using Perspective for telework, said Guy Timberlake, director of program development for Knowledge Information Solutions Inc., a reseller and user of Perspective.

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