IT advances put system security on the cards

Bill Cannings says that system protection is becoming more simple and secure with the introduction of innovative smart card facilities. Bill Cannings is managing director of Valid Information Systems.

The computer industry now takes up 27 halls at the Hanover Trade Fair.

With today's increased use of electronic document storage, the Internet and intranets, security is on the top of everybody's agenda.

Out of 200 exhibitors showing every conceivable type of device to protect our systems, I saw a number of ideas that I thought were best value for money.

At the top of my list has to be a smart card, which can be used as an alternative to passwords as a means of controlling access to computer systems.

Instead of handing out passwords to users on sticky notes for all to see, you can buy a kit for £500 allowing you to produce your own cards.

Readers can be plugged into your serial port and cost about £50. More importantly, I saw the prototypes of low-cost keyboards with the reader embedded in them.

An option that has slightly higher set-up costs, but to me was a better system idea, is the Token. It is a smart card contained within a credit card-sized unit incorporating a keypad.

The Token generates a new password each time the user keys into his computer. The application is server based and costs about £20,000 to set up.

Tokens cost about £40 each and are completely portable, which means no scanning device is necessary and they can be used away from the office.

I believe that this is the type of device that will be adopted for electronic commerce in the future and could replace the conventional high street bank's cashpoint card. This system would be especially useful for teleworking staff.

An excellent product for data security was some High Availability software, for NT and UNIX users.

This product mirrors any information which is being amended onto an alternative server so that if the system is about to crash it automatically switches over to the alternative server within about 10 seconds.

With the reducing cost of servers and disks, I believe this is a viable financial option.