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Laptop Encryption the Service Way

Not into building your own laptop encryption? New services should help

Laptops are becoming a a leading cause of gastric disturbance to IT managers worldwide. High-profile thefts, electronic eavesdroppers, and general lack of security, paired with workers' increasing mobility, is serving up a witches brew that can poison corporate security. What's more, a technical antidote can be annoyingly tough to implement. (See Portable Problems Prompt IT Spending and Laptop Venn & Zen.)

But what if you didn't have to do it yourself? What if you could just phone for help? That's the premise behind emerging encryption services for mobile workers, as typified by today's news that Fiberlink Communications Corp. has teamed up with Credant, a vendor of mobile-device security software, to offer services nationwide.

According to Fiberlink, all a manager has to do is lift that phone. Once an enterprise signs a contract, Fiberlink lets IT tap into its Extend360 Mobility platform through the Internet. The Fiberlink software interacts with the company's LDAP directory to establish a profile, and a human agent at Fiberlink confers with the IT department to determine encryption policies for specific users and groups of users.

All that remains is for the end user to get on the Internet to download Fiberlink's agent. (Agent software can also be distributed in a variety of other ways, but the Internet is preferred by Fiberlink.) Encryption automatically takes place when the user is obtaining data online. Fiberlink customers don't have to use their Internet transport, either -- any Internet service a laptop user deploys will be encrypted.

There is a catch -- several, in fact. First, while data accessed from corporate resources like databases is automatically encrypted, laptop users must use a password each time they want to encrypt email. As every IT manager knows, relying on end users this way is part of the laptop problem.

Another issue is that Extend360 isn't a standalone product. It comes as part of a basic service offering that costs at least $7 to $8 per user. The new encryption piece can easily double that base price, subject to volume discounts. (Fiberlink's keeping mum on pricing specifics.)

Still, buying the Credant product alone is no bargain at about $85 per user. The package, called Mobile Guardian, runs under Windows and supports laptops as well as PDAs and smart phones, though Fiberlink is focusing mainly on laptops. Credant, which competes primarily with a vendor called Pointsec, also has partnerships with HP and EDS, even though this is the first service offering to emerge from an alliance.

At least one analyst thinks Fiberlink's service is a good deal compared with buying a product for in-house use. "Fiberlink gives you better integration and life-cycle support. You have just one throat to choke," says Andrew Jaquith, senior analyst with the Yankee Group. "With a service, if you don't like it, you can stop paying and unplug it." In addition, he says it's easier to provision a service, and there's no setup and training associated with bringing machinery in house.

Fiberlink says it's been trialing the encryption service to some of its Extend360 Mobility customers, but none have actually signed up to use it.

One of Fiberlink's existing customers, eFunds, uses Pointsec for encryption. But calls to ask the chief security officer there whether he'd make the change were unanswered at press time. Other Fiberlink customers include Bloomberg, Continental, and GE.

Fiberlink's chief competition comes from iPass, which offers encryption as part of its mobile device and connectivity management service suite.

— Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Credant Technologies
  • Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu
  • Fiberlink Communications Corp.
  • iPass Inc. (Nasdaq: IPAS)
  • MetaSolv Software Inc. (Nasdaq: MSLV)
  • Plantronics Inc.
  • Pointsec Mobile Technologies
  • Yankee Group Research Inc.