A small Taiwanese hardware maker is looking to make encrypting your data as easy as pressing the “save” button.

Enova Technology Corp. unveiled a hardware encryption system for hard disk drives at the Computex Taipei 2002 exhibition. The system, it says, works in real time, can be used with any operating system and comes with no performance overhead to provide encryption up to Triple-DES level.

“This encrypts everything,” said Robert Wann, president and CEO of Enova. “The data, the operating system and the boot sector. That means that if you connect this to a PC without a key, you can’t even tell what operating system it is running.”

The system consists of two parts. The first is a small encryption board that contains a hardware encryption and decryption chip, X-Wall SE, developed by Enova, and the second is a dongle containing a software key which, once plugged into a socket on the encryption board, provides DES or Triple-DES encryption with a key length of 40 bits, 64 bits, 128 bits or 192 bits.

The board sits between the PC motherboard and the hard disk, encrypting all data flowing to the hard disk and decrypting all data flowing in the opposite direction. Its operation is transparent to the user. It requires no device drivers, and will work with any operating system and most hard disk drives including DMA (Direct Memory Access) and Ultra DMA models.

In use, the key needs to be inserted when the system is booted up although it does not need to be kept there once the system starts, said Enova. Users will get two copies of the electronic key from Enova and will have to keep at least one in a safe place. Should both be lost, the hard drive will be inaccessible and all the data will be lost.

“People ask me what happens if I lose both keys,” said Wann. “I reply, ‘you’re screwed.'”

The possibility of never seeing your data again should you lose both keys could be a risk some people are unwilling to take. However, it underlines the security of the system and this is the very reason why many people will use it, said Wann.

Developed by IBM Corp., DES is a U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology standard encryption system and highly secure.

For users who worry about the loss of keys, Enova provides a key duplication service although a key can only be copied from the original so extra keys need to be obtained before each is lost. “We keep no information or database on the keys issued,” said Wann.

Enova has several versions of its system available. The first and cheapest is a PCI Card version which costs around US$70 for a 64-bit encryption key version and $150 for the 128-bit key version. A similar version packaged to fit into the front bay of a PC costs around $10 more than the PCI version. Users might find the bay version easier because the slot for the key is on the front of the computer. A portable version that includes the system and can house a hard disk drive is available for $140 and $200 for 64-bit and 128-bit versions respectively.

The company expects to find customers for the products among government and military users for the stronger encryption levels and among consumers and companies, such as health care providers and financial organizations, at the lower encryption levels, said Wann. He also said the company is keenly eyeing the notebook market and talking with several motherboard makers about the possibility of getting the chip built onto boards, although he said that will be difficult to achieve until prices fall.

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