Rugged notebook, software brew up a STORM

When users early last year began buying notebook PCs with the Intel Centrino wireless processor, they didn't anticipate the fast rise of wireless hacking or the Defense Department's imminent need for radio silence in war zones.

"DOD was violent: they said, 'Just get it out of there,' " Panasonic Computer Solutions Corp. national sales director Jan O'Hara said today at FOSE 2004 in Washington.

"Intel Corp. hadn't considered" that soldiers' lives might depend on silencing IEEE 802.llb radio frequency communications. Instead of simply unplugging a USB wireless fidelity add-on or PC Card, Centrino users would have to return their notebooks to the factory to remove the chip.

To silence Centrino via software, Panasonic today announced a partnership with Senforce Technologies Inc. of Orem, Utah, and reseller GTSI Corp. of Chantilly, Va., to bundle Toughbook Centrino notebooks with Senforce's Enterprise Mobile Security Manager 2.5 application.

EMSM can enforce use of a virtual private network for wireless connections and disable USB ports and Centrino for wired ones. It also mitigates denial-of-service attacks and radio interference, Senforce officials said.

The Secure, Tough, Online/Offline, Reliable, Mobile bundle, or STORM, sells "for about 1.5 times as much' as a semirugged notebook, O' Hara said.

The EMSM security policy, set by an administrator and downloaded to client systems at selected intervals, can disable any wireless, wired or modem traffic in dangerous areas, Senforce technical marketing director Kip Meacham said.

The network-aware EMSM "binds the hardware below the application layer" of Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP notebooks so that wiping the disk and reinstalling the operating system cannot circumvent the protection, he said.

EMSM has a Microsoft SQL Server back end for configuration, logging and auditing, and it complies with Federal Information Policy Standard 140-2 for cryptographic exchange of digital credentials, Meacham said. EMSM sells standalone for Centrino notebooks for $90.

O'Hara said about 1,000 users at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., have been beta-testing STORM. She said military users have told her that up to 80 percent of their nonrugged notebooks have failed within weeks in southwest Asia because of sand and dust.

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