Review: DeviceLock plugs holes

As the little Dutch boy knew, leaks can seep through the smallest cracks and potentially turn into a major disaster.

PCs are like dikes with many small holes that let in potential security breaches instead of water. While firewalls and encryption can help protect a network from external threats, locally unsecured devices and ports remain vulnerable to internal attacks.

That's where SmartLine's DeviceLock software comes in. The product plugs the holes and prevents leaks by controlling user access to devices and ports on a PC. In this way it protects the computer not only from malicious activity, such as data theft or network corruption, but also from inadvertent introduction of viruses or accidental formatting.

The product works by intercepting every request from a user to a device and then checking whether or not the user has permission to use the device. If not, the user receives an "access denied" message.

The list of devices and ports DeviceLock can protect is surprisingly long. Devices include CD-ROM/CD-RW and DVD-ROM/DVD-RW drives, floppy drives, tape devices and any removable storage devices such as memory sticks, flash drives, external hard drives and ZIP drives. Ports include USB, FireWire, serial (including internal modems), parallel and infrared.

And, unlike Windows Group Policy, the product can control access to 802.11b wireless network adapters, Bluetooth adapters, USB ports and FireWire devices. In addition, the newest version of the product includes control for Personal Digital Assistants and memory keys on network machines.

DeviceLock even allows you to control access by time of day and day of the week. Access times and permissions can be set for individual users or user groups.

We tested DeviceLock on a networked computer, but the product also works with standalone installations. Administrators use a central console called the DeviceLock Manager to remotely deploy and manage the DeviceLock Service, which is an agent installed on each client machine that is invisible to users.

The product communicates between the manager and the service using Remote Procedure Call (RPC) technology and authenticates using the Windows NT user-level security subsystem.

We liked the DeviceLock Manager's one-stop shopping interface. The software automatically searches for available computers on the network and displays them in a tree structure in one pane of the manager window. From there you can easily see which computers are not running DeviceLock and remotely deploy the software in a few clicks.

Devices are listed in another pane and from there you can set permissions for each device type. All devices within a type will have the same permissions. For example, if you have two floppy drives, you cannot set different permissions for each one.

You can give users full access, read-only access or no access at all. Note that for some devices such as ports and wireless products, selecting read-only results in no access.

If a user has full access, you can grant additional permission to allow drive formatting for applicable devices such as hard drives. You can also grant full-access users permission to eject media via software, although there is no way to prevent someone from ejecting media by using the button on the device itself.

Setting time and day access for users or groups is a simple matter of selecting squares on a grid. We only wish it had been more obvious that we needed to right-click in order to select denied time blocks.

Enterprise administrators will appreciate the batch permissions function, which allows you to set permissions for one or more device type uniformly across the network. For example, you could deny access to all CD-ROM and floppy drives on the network between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.

USB poses a special set of problems because of the varied types of devices it supports. What if you wanted to lock the USB ports to prevent the use of flash memory drives but the computers were using USB mice and keyboards?

Because of this issue DeviceLock will allow certain common devices to function as usual even if the USB port is locked. These devices include human input devices (such as mice and keyboards), printers, scanners, Bluetooth adapters, storage devices and network cards. A couple of non-USB devices are also included: FireWire network cards and serial modems.

If you want to restrict access to these devices you must specify them in the program's security settings module by clicking the appropriate check box.

Another DeviceLock feature called the USB White List extends security customization even further. It allows you to authorize specific device models that will not be locked regardless of other security settings for that device class. For example, you could add a user's USB flash drive to the white list so it could be accessed while all other USB flash drive models remain locked out.

You can also use the white list to add a device that is not listed in DeviceLock's security settings, such as a Smart Card reader. In this way the white list can act as a user-defined device class.

It's important to note that the USB white list can allow control of a particular model, but not a specific unit. So if a user's model of USB flash drive is authorized and a thief has a drive that is the same model made by the same vendor, data could be stolen.

DeviceLock is an easy to use, thorough and highly customizable software package that goes a long way in protecting computers from internal data theft or accidental malicious downloads. It can be easily deployed throughout an enterprise to restrict access to multiple ports and devices.



Price: A single-user license costs $35 for up to 24 users. Volume discounts range from $22 per license for 25-49 users to $7.40 per license for 1,000 or more users. For full multi-user pricing and information about how to order visit

Security: Four stars

Management: Three stars

Ease of use: Three stars

Price: Three stars

Pros: DeviceLock offers control of local devices beyond the scope of Windows Group Policy. It's easy to manage across the enterprise and security settings are highly customizable.

Cons: Instructions for selecting restricted time blocks should be more visible in the product's management console.

Test bed: HP Compaq Evo running Windows Server 2003, Compaq Deskpro PC running Windows XP

Compatibility: Windows XP, 2000, NT 4.0, Windows Server 2003


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