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Laptop Security Device Poised for Federal Market

March 17, 2008
by Henry S. Kenyon

Lost laptop computers containing sensitive or classified information are a serious security breach for any organization. A recently released hardware and software application now permits administrators to track laptops and to erase data on hard drives remotely when they are lost or stolen.

Introduced in October 2007, SprintSecure Laptop Guardian is a wireless connection card that allows a computer to communicate with its host network securely. According to Bill White, Sprint’s director for federal programs, the card is designed to meet a major requirement for federal government users: the need for instant and secure access to information.

White notes that while many commercial products address wireless communication needs, they are not as successful in meeting security requirements. He maintains that the reason government agencies continue to experience security issues is that security is often complicated to implement at the user level. He explains that the card simplifies the process, noting that once it is installed, it is essentially invisible to the user. “It’s got to be easy to use, or it won’t be used. Otherwise you’ll have the same security problems that you started off with. From a user perspective, it’s very simple to use because it works just like a traditional connection card. You plug it into your laptop slot and then you click on an application on your screen, and it asks you to connect to the network. That’s as complicated as it gets,” he says.

Once users are in the network, they can wirelessly access the Internet, their organization’s intranet or any other area they have clearance or permission to visit. White says that Laptop Guardian is unique because it integrates security and wireless access on a single card. “It’s the Swiss army knife of connection cards,” he quips.

The card protects information stored on laptop computers by encrypting the data at rest. Administrators can track a computer through the card’s integrated global positioning system (GPS) application, and they can remotely command the card to wipe all data from a stolen or compromised laptop.

Network communications are maintained via a third-generation (3-G) wireless modem and secured via a virtual private network (VPN) capability with 128-bit encryption operating on the Sprint network. Laptop Guardian also allows organizations to protect their infrastructures and the edges of their networks by transmitting software patches remotely to all their mobile computers, explains Edward C. Bursk, chief marketing officer, LGS, Alcatel-Lucent’s government subsidiary. Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Laboratories developed the Laptop Guardian technology.

The card has its own separate battery power and remains on even when a computer is shut off. It automatically backs up data and stores any new patches, loading them onto the computer’s hard drive when the computer is turned on. Bursk says that the device allows government organizations to keep their networks updated and secure while reducing down-time.

White believes that Laptop Guardian is unique because of the sum of its parts: its security functions, data backup and a 3G modem. The card contains its own processor and memory and an internal battery. It also has its own internal operating system capable of conducting self-diagnostic management and patch management, along with an integrated GPS capability. The card is not manufacturer specific, but it supports Windows XP and will support Vista beginning this summer. By the end of March, the system will include full disc encryption, and it will continue to add other software application vendors. Sprint also is examining supporting and possibly interoperating with other VPN vendors.

The product is now in trials with federal agencies and awaiting Federal Information Processing Standard certification. White explains that the certification is key for broad government distribution.

Laptop Guardian already is being implemented in the commercial sector, says Mark Haase, Sprint’s wireless data product manager. He notes that the health care and insurance industries have adopted the cards. These professions require employees to have laptops. Another area is education, where schools must keep track of student laptops. Haase adds that two customers are skipping trials entirely and adopting the devices outright.