Products that rocked the boat

GCN Lab Reviews: The best of 2007 each sailed their own course

THE GCN LAB reviewed hundreds of products this year, of which fewer than 40 received a Reviewer's Choice seal, our highest measure of excellence. Of those, a few stood out as being something really special, the best of the best in 2007. These products blazed new trails, ventured into areas where nobody else dared to go or simply changed everything. The following are the Lab's top six products of 2007.

IronKey 4G Secure Flash drive

THIS PROBABLY is the only key drive an employee of the federal government should use. Its security features make it a fingertip fortress that goes so far as to destroy itself Mission Impossible-style after too many wrong guesses at the password.

The IronKey encrypts all its files using an embedded Cryptochip with a military-grade Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm.

Because this is hardware-based encryption, it works much faster than the software-based engines we have seen on other secure drives, yet the key drive needs no installation. If you don't have administrator access, you can still use the IronKey.

As a bonus, the inexpensive $149 4G drive also protects your Web surfing with its hardened version of Firefox.

You can use it along with a secure server managed by IronKey ' use is included in the price ' to hide your identity online and even change the paths your data takes over the Internet.

The rugged and submersible IronKey is a James Bond-worthy device at a budget price, which earns it a top spot for 2007.(Full review)

Best Product of 2007: Fidelis XPS 100 Direct

ADMINISTRATORS PAY A LOT of attention to securing networks from the outside, but internal security is almost always overlooked ' sometimes with disastrous, headline-grabbing results. The Fidelis XPS 100 Direct is a 1U appliance that makes sure secret and sensitive information inside your agency stays there.

The XPS 100 protects your network without disrupting services by looking at the data being sent and the type of activity being conducted rather than checking each port the way a standard firewall does. Once in place, you can set up sophisticated pattern-recognition rules to protect your data and specify what action the sensor should take when it finds something suspicious: alert only, alert and prevent, or quarantine. You can then group similar rules into a policy and assign policies to the appropriate sensor.

With the sensor set at in-line mode, it is nearly foolproof. It stopped files with credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act information and classified document markings, and it stopped them from being sent by a variety of methods including Simple Mail Transfer Protocol e-mail, Web mail and instant messaging.

The XPS 100 Direct costs $75,000, a good price for something that prevents data leakage that could cost millions of dollars, put millions of people in danger of identity theft or compromise national security.

We salute the XPS 100 Direct by designating it The Best Overall Product of 2007. (Full review)

Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate

FEW PROGRAMS CHANGE the computing landscape the way a new operating system from Microsoft can. Soon you won't be able to buy a new system without Vista.

The biggest improvements over good old XP are usability and security. For government, security has to be paramount.

Vista's main line of defense is a feature called BitLocker that encrypts the entire drive where Vista resides. There is also a file encryption system that can encrypt individual folders. An administrator theoretically could set up all the laptops in an agency to allow folder-level encryption but have a single smart card with the master key that could unlock everything if needed.

But the most useful security enhancement is the fact that Vista runs in Protected Mode, which gives programs only a limited subset of privileges and permissions to execute. If something strange happens, a user has to approve the process, putting you squarely in the driver's seat. (Full review)

Fujitsu LifeBook E8210

THE LAPTOP PC MARKET in 2007 featured a bewildering array of options and components, but the Fujitsu LifeBook E8210 has everything you need and nothing you don't. It seems tailor-made for government users.

The two best features are performance and security. For performance, the Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 Processor backed by 2G of double- data-rate-2 RAM gives the LifeBook more oomph than most desktop systems.

And for security, there is a biometric fingerprint sensor and a smart-card reader. But the E8210 goes beyond that by adding a unique security device we hadn't seen before. The top of the keyboard has five buttons that act like a tumbler lock. If this security device is enabled, you can't use the laptop unless the proper keys are pressed. And with 813,615 possible combinations, it would be almost impossible to guess.

A large screen, good video card, long battery life and reasonable price less than $2,000 made the LifeBook the laptop to have in 2007. (Full review)

Dell OptiPlex 745 Mini-Tower

THERE WAS A TIME when desktop PCs could not match the performance of workstation systems.

Desktops, especially in government, were pretty much low-end data-processing machines. Dualcore systems have changed all that, and the OptiPlex 745 has led the charge.

The 745 puts the works into one minitower case.

This little system has just about every component you could want, and its performance ' driven by an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 processor and 2G of RAM ' is beyond what we would have thought possible just a few years ago. With a score of 14,455 on the old GCN benchmarks ' the previous high had been under 10,000 ' it forced the lab to change to a new performance measurement program.

And with a government price less than $1,500, there is nothing not to like ' and everything to love ' about this desktop PC. (Full review)

Altiris 6 Software Virtualization Solution 2.0

ANALYSTS ALWAYS SEEM to predict that virtualization use will explode, and then the year comes and goes without much movement.

This year was no different ' except that one company showed how a true virtualization package could perform.

Installing a program through Altiris 6 Software Virtualization Solution 2.0 creates a virtual software package, or VSP. This package contains the files necessary to run the program in addition to a record of all changes made to the registry and hard drive during installation.

The Filter Driver uses this information to interface that program with the operating system.

Once a VSP is created, you have the option of activating or deactivating its layer.

When a layer is deactivated, it is totally invisible to the system and the user, its presence removed from the registry. It's as if it were never installed. This lets clients run software without clutter or program conflicts because the software is completely virtual.

Each copy of the SVS client has a government price of a little more than $20. (Full review)

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