Timely encryption keeps data safe

It seems the folks at Absolute Software Corp. in Vancouver want you to remember one word when considering their latest application: insurance.

On the heels of a high-profile case of computer component theft involving one missing hard drive, a few embarrassed insurance companies and personal data belonging to more than a million Canadians, Absolute unveiled AbsoluteEncrypt, software that might have put a different spin on the situation.

Absolute’s latest product is “very pertinent to that particular case,” said Mark St. Quentin, the firm’s vice-president of product management, indicating that timing is no coincidence here.

On Jan. 16 someone stole a hard drive from ISM Canada Inc., an IT services outfit in Regina. The drive carried information about customers of the Co-operators Group Ltd. and the Investors Group Inc. Authorities on Feb. 5 found the hard drive, saying there is no evidence that the information it held was used maliciously.

Still, the case sparked privacy concerns. What if the robber had planned to use those account codes, addresses and telephone numbers for some nefarious purpose?

Enter AbsoluteEncrypt, an application that would have made such speculation moot. The program employs solid encryption technology to keep data stored on laptop and desktop computers safe from prying eyes.

For a yearly fee per unit, IT administrators use AbsoluteEncrypt to create virtual, encrypted volumes as large as 4GB on users’ computers. The service lets administrators set up security policies, such as password preferences – single sign-on or heavy-duty dual sign-on. The Web-based application also offers various encryption algorithms and key strengths from 40 bits to 448 bits.

Absolute says the program generates reports and alarms so administrators are notified about deployment errors, license expirations and other events.

St. Quentin said AbsoluteEncrypt is “for any customer concerned about the integrity and security of their data.”

Alister Sutherland, a software analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, expressed one concern about the service: “Drive segments for virtualized data can only be as big as 4GB…by today’s standards, that’s pretty small.”

But in light of the controversial hard drive theft at ISM Canada, AbsoluteEncrypt seems to make sense, Sutherland said. The case “brought into sharp relief the potential for a real breach…of privacy.”

Insurance has become important for one Absolute customer. Steve Eisenberg, director of IT at Episcopal High School in Houston, installed ComputracePlus, another Absolute security product, on students’ notebook computers. The software tracks down PCs when they go missing, and helped the school take insurance matters into its own hands.

Episcopal used to lose five per cent of students’ laptops each year. With the tracking software, “our rate of laptops drifting off dropped essentially to zero,” Eisenberg said.

Now that laptop loss is under control, “we’ve gone from having an external insurance company to having self-insurance,” he said. “We’re able to charge each kid less than we did when we had an external insurance company.”

As for AbsoluteEncrypt, Eisenberg said Episcopal probably doesn’t need it. After all, students might keep private info on their computers, but for the most part “none of it represents any kind of security breach if it’s gone.”

A spokeswoman for ISM Canada said the company would not comment on AbsoluteEncrypt. She added, the hard drive “has been recovered and the police have consistently indicated that they believe this was a theft of hardware, that the data were not the target.”

AbsoluteEncrypt is priced at $82.95 per year, per unit. IDC’s Sutherland called it a “a very competitive offering.” Absolute plans to unveil a non-subscription version in the near future. For more information visit www.absolute.com.

– With files from Carly Suppa

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