Locking down the desktop

Montreal-based E-Z LOCK PC Inc. has come up with a new security solution that provides access control via a microprocessor on a smart card.

E-Z LOCK CAL is a smart card that is inserted into either a keyboard reader, PC Card reader or remote reader. The card, together with a PIN code entry, will give users access to their PCs.

Users can then ensure privacy by locking their PCs — removing the card when leaving their workstation freezes the screen, making it impossible for others to access what they’ve been working on, while applications still continue to run in the background. And corporations can use the cards to restrict which applications a user will have access to — they will all be programmed into each individual’s customized smart card.

“For example, (the user) can be authorized to only use Word and Excel, period — everything else can be denied, including games,” said Daniel Sommer, general manager of E-Z LOCK.

The card is available in two offerings: single-user or large-scale deployment. But Sommer said the target focus will be government institutions and corporations, more than individual consumers.

“We suspect (consumers) will require a lot of support,” Sommer said. “Whereas within an organization where you have an IT department, this for them would be an absolute cinch to manage.”

The product’s full-featured administrator module allows the administrator to set profiles, network authorizations, password management, expiry date and locked user card reactivation. The administrator’s module is essential to remotely unlock PCs due to lost or forgotten passwords.

For single users, E-Z LOCK is going to offer 24-hour on-line and telephone technical support, including lost card and password replacement through a secure user authentication process.

The E-Z LOCK CAL runs on Microsoft Windows 95/98 and NT, and provides boot protection for Windows 95/98. It has bilingual interface capabilities — English and French — with Spanish capabilities coming soon. It also allows for automated logon with Windows NT, Unix and NetWare networks.

David Marshall, director of Canadian software research at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said he thinks this is a product that has a lot of potential.

“I think this will be of interest to a lot of government and large corporations,” he said. “It’s just getting too hairy out there — there’s big access to a lot of information through a lot desktops sitting out there.”

He said that generally most sabotage comes from internal sources, so this would be one way to prevent that from happening.

“The other aspect to it is locking the environment so people only get access to certain software programs and services, that type of thing,” he said. “Now you can do that with various other things like rights and permissions…but this actually locks it at the executable file level.”

Marshall added that the whole structure and mindset behind using a smart card to get into your computer would not be difficult for people to adapt to, since many people are already used to using an access card to get in and out of their buildings or even departments at work.

“And [EZ LOCK seems] to have a reasonable scheme in place for handling the loss of the card or forgetting the ID pass codes — you get that dealt with fairly quickly,” he said.

“It’s a fairly simple technology; it doesn’t take a lot of training.”

All in all, Marshall said he didn’t see a whole lot of downsides to the product. He did say, however, that he could see E-Z LOCK facing some challenges due to the smaller size and profile of the company.

“In some of the financial environments, for example, they’re such a small company that they may not even make it onto the list for consideration,” he said. “However, I have seen banks bypass that process if it is a good product and it’s the only game in town.”

The E-Z LOCK CAL (www.ezlock.com/english/products_us.htm) was expected to be released at the end of April, with pricing for a single-user kit listing at $299. For corporations with multiple stations, price per card will be reduced according to the number of stations. Each E-Z LOCK kit includes: one smart card reader (either keyboard, remote or PC Card); one administrator card and back-up card; one user card; and one software licence on CD-ROM.

E-Z LOCK in Montreal is at (514) 931-5442.