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Identity theft is a growing scourge.  But it isn't just your credit card number that can cause your identity to be stolen.

Think about the huge amount of sensitive and personal data you have on your laptop.

What would happen if your laptop was stolen?

The Securikey could be a valuable tool to protect yourself from the consequences of losing your laptop.

 
 
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SecuriKey USB Computer Protection Key

Protect your Laptop against Data Theft
 

You don't leave your house or car unlocked.  So why not also lock your computers with the new Securikey?

This simple small device plugs in to a computer's USB port.  Without the device plugged in, your computer and its data is securely locked.

 

 

If you have a computer that runs Windows 2000/2003 or XP, this device can add an extra level of security, making it harder (but not impossible) for unauthorized people to steal your data.

Do you need the extra security of Securikey?

Maybe your computer is already protected by the need to type in a username and password.  What are the added benefits of the Securikey system?

The chances are your present username and password do not offer very robust protection.  When you turn your computer on, the log-in screen already shows your username - all a hacker needs to do is guess your password and they can access your computer.  How guess-proof is your password?

Indeed, maybe they don't even need that.  Do you have a 'Guest' account on your computer?  Maybe there is a default guest account that allows anyone to access your computer without a password.  Or maybe the Administrator account also has a vulnerable password.  Or perhaps there is another user account on the system which has no password.  Or perhaps you have shared drives that could be accessed by connecting your computer to a second computer.

Even if none of these very basic vulnerabilities are present, a motivated hacker can probably break through the default Windows security and access the data on your hard drive.  There are even various 'hacker' utilities that can reset the Administrator password on a computer, giving the person who used the utility complete access to the computer's contents.  Securikey advise that a skilled hacker can get into your password protected computer in less than 15 seconds.

If your computer is fixed in place, in your office or at home, your vulnerability to data or identity theft from a stranger is low, because a thief first must break in to your home or office.  But if you travel with a laptop, your vulnerability goes sky-high, because your laptop is much more vulnerable to being stolen.

Laptop thefts are sharply increasing.  53% more laptops were stolen in 2001 than in 2000.  In 2002, this number is believed to have increased by at least a further 15%, up to a staggering 620,000 (more than one every minute).

The harm due to lost and misused data eclipses the underlying cost of the laptop itself.  A 2001 FBI study showed that the average loss resulting from a laptop theft was $89,000.  Another source suggests that 57% of all corporate information that is stolen comes from mis-using laptops to get access into corporate servers.

Here's a June 04 article that dramatically shows the extent and prevalence of the problem of laptop data theft.  In one test case, 70 of 100 lost laptops proved to have vulnerable data.  In another, one in three password protected computers were quickly defeated.

Plainly, it is prudent to secure your laptop as robustly as possible.

Securikey Protection - what you get

When you buy a Securikey kit, you get two USB Securikey devices (sometimes called keys, sometimes called tokens).  They can be used as two keys to the one computer, or two different users can each have their own key (and matching personal profile with different access rights) for the one computer, whichever you prefer.

Extra keys can be purchased from Securikey.

The keys measure 2.125" x 0.5" x 0.25", and weigh a quarter ounce.  There is a small keyring at the end of both keys (the picture above doesn't show the keyring on the second key).

Both keys are identical, so if you're choosing to use them for different people and different user profiles, you'll need to somehow scratch an identifying mark on each key so you don't get them confused.

Identifying keys could become even more problematic in a corporate environment, with a potential confusion of different keys and no easy way of matching up keys with their users and computers.

The two keys are very attractively packed in a lovely aluminium case.  I'll probably keep the case for years - it looks much too 'useful' and 'good' to throw away, but I'll probably never use it for anything else!

Also included is a CDrom with the necessary software on it and a 35 page small sized Getting Started guide.

There was no warranty information, and neither could I find any information on their website, but I'm told there is a generous two year warranty on the keys.

The Securikey is compatible with all PC systems that have a USB port and either Windows 2000/2003 or Windows XP.

Installation

It would have been nice to find a 'Quick Start' single sheet in with the other documentation.  I'm always confused whether you should first load the software and then plug in the device, or plug in the device first and follow the Windows prompts, when adding new USB devices, and I had to carefully read a lot of the Getting Started booklet before feeling confident I knew what I was doing.  In bold type was the rather chilling statement that :

failure to follow these instructions could result in becoming locked out of your computer system.

which motivated me to follow through the installation with more care than normal.  Which also meant that any glitches in the installation process were also more alarming.

I had my first problem while installing when it asked me for my user name.  Did it mean my official log in user ID, or did it just mean any type of name at all?  There was no help option in the install program and the Getting Started guide didn't answer the question either.  I chose to answer with a unique name, not my log in name.  This didn't seem to cause any problem.

But then - aaagh!  What appeared on screen was not what I was told to expect in the Getting Started (GS) guide.  The GS guide suggested I'd be asked for a Profile Name, but the actual program skipped this step and went on to the next screen shown in the GS guide.  The grave warning about failure to follow the instructions resonated in my mind, and I wondered if I'd done something wrong.

The install program instructed me to now connect the Securikey to my computer, and said that I'd have to plug it into every possible USB port so that the system would load the necessary drivers for each port.  That promised to be a problem - my two port laptop has one port always in use for my mouse, but I decided to first get the device installed on the free port.

The 'Found New Hardware' wizard started up, and the GS guide merely said 'if you're unfamiliar with dialogs that Windows displays when it finds new hardware, please read through the Hardware Setup sections for either Windows 2000 or Windows XP'!

Wow.  That is one of the most unhelpful and unfriendly statements I've ever seen in a manual, and when you keep in mind (as I anxiously was) that if you don't do this perfectly, you might end up locked out of your system, this is a totally unsatisfactory level of documentation and support by the manufacturer.

Securikey subsequently explained that this comment was intended to direct the user to supplementary help files that could be found on the CDrom.

So, looking at the Found New Hardware wizard, I wondered - do I want to install the software automatically or manually?  Other USB devices have always said, in their documentation, which option to use, but in this critical case, I was on my own.

Making the matter worse was I couldn't call Customer Support, because their 40 hour/week support service was closed.  This lack of documentation is unsatisfactory in a product aimed at ordinary end users.

I persevered (and installed the software automatically).

The next step was unavoidably laborious.  Due to inadequacies in how Microsoft handles USB devices, it is necessary to install the Securikey on every USB port on your computer.  Although I only have two USB ports on my laptop, I also use a four port hub to give me more USB ports.  So I had to install the Securikey driver ten times!  (Once each for the two USB ports, then four times while the hub was in one port, and another four times when it was in the other port.)

This was compounded by the fact that I was using one of the ports for my mouse, but eventually I got the device recognized and set up each of the ten different ways.

Now for another important choice - what do I want the computer to do when the Securikey is removed?  The choices are to lock the computer, put the computer into standby mode, log off my user account, or shut the computer down.  After thinking about this, I decided that the choice I most wanted was, alas, not available!

I wanted the computer not to go to standby mode (which still draws power from the battery) but to hibernate mode (which does not use any power, and still allows for a very fast power down and subsequent restart).  Some computers have compatibility problems with the standby mode, and I never like to use this option.

I chose the option to lock the computer, although I didn't really know what this meant.

After completing the registration process (see below) the install was finished.

Lastly, I rebooted my computer.  When restarting, a brief message flashed on the screen that said something about Securikey.  Hopefully it wasn't anything important, although a nagging fear caused me to think 'why would they show a message if it wasn't important'.  I typed my password into the normal looking log-in screen, and there I was - properly logged in, with everything seeming to work perfectly.

Using the Securikey

I pulled the Securikey out of the USB port, and about three seconds later, the screen changed to a blue screen with a window asking me to insert the Securikey.  When I re-inserted the key, I had to enter my Windows user password to get back into the system.

That was easy.  Securikey in = computer works.  Securikey out = computer stops working.

I shut my computer down to a hibernation state and then restarted it.  Same procedure.  Again, simple.

So, although the install involved several worrying areas of ambiguity, it seemed to have all been completed satisfactorily, and my PC was now more secure than before.  Excellent.

I experimented adding and removing other USB devices, and generally there seemed to be no problem or interference between them and the Securikey, with one notable exception being the Slim Cam 300 - often plugging in this device would cause the computer to think I'd unplugged the Securikey and so lock itself up, requiring me to go through the password re-entry to restart.  This is almost certainly the 'fault' of bad software written for the Slim Cam 300, but the inconvenience occurred, not matter which vendor was at fault.

I could also sometimes cause anomalous behavior by unplugging and replugging the Securikey repeatedly, or 'at the wrong time'.  The system did not seem to be absolutely rock solidly stable, although for ordinary users, not trying to crash the system, there shouldn't be a problem.

The USB key sticks out about 1" from the USB port, a similar distance to most other USB connectors.  This does not cause a problem on a flight, because the opened screen stretches further back than the USB device.

It is a shame that the documentation is not more complete and user friendly, but once one has succeeded in installing and configuring the system, using it is an easy 'no-brainer'.

How Secure is Securikey

Alas, the answer to this question is 'not completely'.  In its default configuration, even a fairly unskilled computer hacker could quickly defeat the protection it offers.

You can make two tweaks to greatly increase the security of your data.  First, set the Securikey service so that it prevents your computer starting in Safe Mode.

Second, enable the Encrypted File System in Windows so that, even if a person can access your data, it is encoded and can't be read without your logon.  Securikey advise that with modern powerful CPUs, there is almost no noticeable slowdown in overall performance when using a file system with encrypted rather than clear data.

While the adage 'locks are for honest people' applies to the Securikey as well as to traditional locks, using the Securikey system will make your system very much less vulnerable than it presently is.

Of course, your laptop will still be an attractive object to steal, as a laptop, rather than as a valuable data source, so still be careful with your laptop.

Somewhat more Secure, but also Somewhat less Reliable

While Securikey adds a layer of added security, it also adds a layer of extra vulnerability to your computing.  What happens if your key is lost, or damaged, or malfunctions?  Or if you simply forget to bring the key with you?

A Securikey support representative admitted that sometimes when a computer crashes it is possible that it somehow also scrambles the security data stored on the key, making it inoperable and needing to be replaced.

If you're traveling and - for whatever reason - you need to get a replacement key, you will find yourself with an inoperable laptop for a day or more until you can get a new key or somehow otherwise hack your way into your computer and restore it to working without the missing/broken key.

But, the issue you need to consider is :  Which is more likely to happen - your laptop will be stolen and the Securikey system will protect the data on it; or that you'll lose or break the key and find yourself shut out of your computer when you need it the most?

Most people will almost certainly feel that the very small risk that Securikey presents is many times outweighed by the very large extra security it provides.

Securikey will send out a replacement key the same day you call in to ask for one, so in theory, with overnight shipping, you should never be more than one business day away from a new key while in the US.  A replacement key costs $45 plus shipping.

Plainly, the Securikey is not without its own set of risks, and with that in mind, I decided I'd use the second key that came in the box as an emergency duplicate, rather than giving it to someone else to use.

The Vital Importance of Registration

Securikey can only create a replacement key for you if they know the unique identify for the key you lost.  When you register - either on line, or by printed out form that can be mailed or faxed to them - this information is sent to them.

But if you don't register, and don't have this information stored somewhere yourself, if you need a replacement key for a system that you've completely secured, you're dead in the water and the only thing you can do is reformat the hard disk and lose all your data.

Securikey's CEO, Bennett Griffin, explains it this way :  'We strongly encourage users to register SecuriKey. It's essentially a free insurance policy to ensure that a duplicate token can be made if it is ever needed.'

With this sensible advice in mind, I broke the habit of a lifetime and registered my keys.  You should, too.

The Second Key

Each unit includes two keys.  The second key can be used to identify a second account on the computer, or it can be used as a duplicate key in case you lose the first one.

I decided to make my second key a duplicate of the first.  But, how?  The manual was silent on how to make the second key a duplicate of the first, and neither did the online help files explain the situation.

After some fruitless and confusing experimentation, I gave up, and decided to call Customer Support to see if they could tell me what to do.

Customer support operates 9-5 weekdays, CST.  Annoyingly, when you call in, if no-one is available to take your call, you don't have an option to wait on hold, but instead you must leave a message and await a call back.  For people that have busy days, it is often just not practical to be called back, and a game of phone tag evolves over potentially several days - a massive problem if the reason for the call is that you're locked out of your computer.

When I did get through to a person (quickly, on the second call) he was very helpful.  It turned out that the second key is automatically configured as a duplicate of the first key, and that no extra programming or setup is required for it to act as a replica of the first key.

Use on Multiple Computers

There appears to be no reason why you couldn't load the Securikey software on more than one computer.  But you would be limited to only using as many computers, simultaneously, as you had appropriate keys.

For multi-user, multi-computer, network environments, Securikey also offer a an enterprise version product.  This has some other nice features as well, such as giving the Network Administrator a 'master key' and the ability to create duplicate keys for any user who has lost/broken his key.  Because these duplicate keys can be instantly created on site, the downtime from a lost/damaged key is reduced to almost zero.

Where to Buy

Several vendors are listed on the Securikey's website, and the company will also sell the product directly to you.

It lists for $129.

At present, YourMobileDesk is selling the product at the lowest price, for $100.

You can also buy extra keys, at a cost of $50 each.

If you lose a key and need a duplicate, you can order one for $45.  It will be shipped the same day you order it.

Alternatives to Securikey

There is a 'heavy duty' alternative to Securikey offered by the respected company, RSA Security.  However, their website is almost completely impenetrable in terms of providing absolutely no easy to understand information, and it also chooses not to display pricing (which invariably means either that the pricing is exorbitant and the company is too embarrassed to show it, or else that pricing is very 'negotiable'!).  RSA's product also requires the user to be connected to their company network for the verification process to occur, making it much less appropriate if you're traveling on the road and often needing to use a laptop while off-line.

There is also an interesting alternative approach offered by Kanguru Solutions.  Their Wizard device appears to 'hide' parts of your hard disk if it is not plugged in to your computer.  Kanguru's PR people declined to provide a unit for comparative evaluation, so draw your own conclusions about its effectiveness.

Summary

The concept of what Securikey is and does is excellent.  A simple convenient hardware 'lock' on your laptop provides very valuable protection, making it difficult for thieves to steal not only your laptop but also the precious and private data stored on it.

But, with its default settings, 'difficult' is not the same as 'impossible', and while adding an extra level of security to your data, it also adds a very slight level of potential inconvenience (if the key gets lost or fails).

Although sold at a suitably high price, and designed as an 'end user' product to be used by and installed by 'ordinary' people rather than IT professionals, it does not come with adequate documentation.  It was difficult to understand, install, and use correctly.

Many users might choose the simpler procedure of simply ensuring that Windows security settings and account privileges are sensibly configured, and to use a hard to guess password, however this might be a poor strategy, because regular Windows security (if the two words aren't oxymoronic!) can be penetrated in 15 seconds by a skilled hacker.

This is a great concept.

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Originally published 27 Feb 2004, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 
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Protect Yourself Against Document Loss part 1
Document Loss part 2
Document Loss part 3
Securikey Computer Protection review
Effective Password Management
Roboform Password Manager review
 
 

 


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