AXENT puts software tokens in clients

Defender 3.0 electronically distributes software tokens to laptops and PCs for strong authentication purposes, according to AXENT Technologies Inc.

“The business of authentication started years ago with a handheld token device,” explained Ed Birss, vice-president and general manager of AXENT’s Defender business unit. “With a handheld device, you’re strongly authenticating because of two things: the end user has the token, and the end user knows the PIN to unlock the token.”

The software tokens in Defender 3.0 automate that process, Birss said.

“The dialogue box comes up, they’re asked to enter their PIN to unlock the token, because the token is actually physically installed on the hard drive of the client, and then the challenge response and sending the user ID is all automated for the individual.

“From an individual’s point of view, it looks like they’re entering a password, but what goes on under the covers is actually the strong user authentication,” Birss said.

An authentication server sits on the network to manage the process initiated by the software tokens on the PC or laptop. With Defender 3.0, those tokens can be electronically distributed, Birss said.

“The administrator merely has to add the user to the database and then the end user can install it, first by receiving some credentials from the administrator in e-mail…So the end user’s job is quite simple, and when compared to the physical distribution of either handheld tokens or the previous version of the software token, it’s a lot simpler,” Birss said.

Mike Zboray, vice-president and research director with Garter Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said most networks rely on mere user ID- and password-based authentication systems. He said Defender 3.0 would improve the level of security, but added that not every corporate network requires it.

“The challenge with a lot of software-based authentication systems is how do I keep somebody from just walking up to a machine and just clipping out the software and tokens of identity that would make this uniquely my token and moving that to another machine?” Zboray said.

Zboray said one technique Defender uses is to ensure the software recognizes the machine based on the serial number of the hard drive.

“On the other hand, if it’s a high-quality attacker, someone who has the time and money to make sure his attack succeeded, he could fake it out by jamming the right serial number in there. So it’s an improvement, but it’s not a fail-safe improvement,” Zboray said.

AXENT’s Birss said not only will a straightforward copy of the token not work on another machine, but neither will an image copy of the hard drive.

Defender 3.0 pricing begins at US$1,995. Pricing depends on the security server, the number of user licences, and how many tokens are purchased. Birss said tokens can be purchased in a mix of both handheld and software.

AXENT in Rockville, Md., is at 1-800-298-2620 or on-line at