Device keeps passwords from going to the dogs

Device keeps passwords from going to the dogs




Mandylion Research Labs;
Vienna, Va.;
tel. 703-628-4284
Price: $37.50

+Keeps random passwords safe

+Can't be hacked without destroying data


-Small controls difficult to program

The key chain device helps you access up to 20 computer devices'and your car.

Only a few mathematically inclined folks can remember long strings of random numbers and letters, let alone several of them. Yet the best security practices call for changing alphanumeric passwords on a regular basis for every network device.

Faced with embarrassing appeals to the systems administrator whetrator whenever they forget a password, most users default to such reliable routines as using their kids' or pets' names, or they simply write down passwords and keep them close at hand. Both methods are dangerous, of course.

Hackers can easily breach the first method with cracking programs for common words. Snoopers can defeat the second method.

Dealing Pokemon cards

It's taken a surprisingly long time to come up with an automatic, inexpensive and fairly secure way of maintaining robust password security for multiple devices. The $40 ebplite, which looks like a Tamagotchi key chain virtual pet at two inches long and about an inch wide, takes up the challenge.

You start by creating a combination for pressing the ebplite's four arrow keys five times, followed by the center button. For example, you might push up, up, down, left and right, then the center button. Then you use that combination every time you log in.

The device's small LCD will show up to 20 randomly generated passwords for your chosen log-in combination. Each password can be up to 10 characters long, and certain fields can be reserved for numeric, ASCII characters or letters, depending on your office's security policy. If no fields are reserved, the strings will be completely random.

Next, you must define which of the random passwords applies to which of your network devices. The ebplite can support your network security policy by automatically generating new passwords at timed intervals.

The device itself is relatively secure. You can set it to lock up for a few minutes or an entire day after a certain number of wrong log-in attempts. By the time a thief tries all the possible key-press combinations, you probably have long since changed your network passwords.

If someone plays with your ebplite or tries to guess your log-in combination, a 'Tampered' warning appears the next time you use the device.

Average battery life is said to be two years, and you won't lose the passwords when the battery goes dead, because they are written to protected memory. The standard watch battery can be changed quickly with a tiny Phillips screwdriver.

Doesn't do holes

Users who take security really seriously can set the device to self-destruct if tampered with. It won't explode in a cracker's hands, but a surge of electricity will erase the protected memory. But specify a certain number of attempts to avoid memory destruction from accidental bumps in your pocket.

There are disadvantages. The ebplite does not enter your passwords automatically'you must do that. Nor does it improve existing network security. It lets you take full advantage of password protection, but if a network is full of security holes, it won't close them.

Giving the ebplite to all your users might convey a false sense of network safety.

Finally, each user must figure out'and remember'which key does what or end up frustrated. Resist the urge to make the log-in key combination too easy, such as pushing the up arrow five times. That's no better as a password than your dog's name.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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