The key to mobile access
USB drive unlocks riches of office desktop from afar
- By John Breeden II
- Nov 16, 2006
Telecommuting is an increasingly attractive option for reducing infrastructure expenditures and for helping employees with long commutes become more productive. But the Achilles heel of many of these efforts is providing safe and secure access to network resources.
There are ways to let people access their networks from remote locations, but most are expensive, such as setting up a Citrix server, or difficult to configure and maintain, such as a virtual private network tunnel. Most also require specific hardware on the client end, like an agency notebook PC that must be maintained and poses a security risk if lost or stolen. Finally, some solutions are also only able to set up secure point-to-point transmissions between two locations, meaning that traveling employees can't use them if they are away from their normal login points of origin.
The MobiKEY from Route1 is a unique answer to this perplexing problem. Although it looks like a normal USB key drive, MobiKEY is actually a client for a secure thin-client network.
Once you get it set up, MobiKEY can grant secure access to a user's computer back at the office. And that means full access including programs that reside on network servers. Plus, MobiKEY can be used with any computing device with a USB port, yet leaves no trace once removed that can be stolen or examined by others.
When the two-inch, silver and blue MobiKEY arrived at the GCN Lab, the techies expected a long and tedious setup process, given our experience getting devices like Citrix servers up and running for remote access.
So we were pleasantly surprised when the total setup time was less than a minute and no more complicated than inserting a key drive into a USB port.
The one tricky thing about setting up MobiKEY is that, to initialize the unit, you have to plug it into the system that you want to be able to access remotely.
Although you can set up multiple hosts on the same MobiKEY, each one will need to go through the installation process. That is because the MobiKEY system has three components, one of which is a program that is installed from the MobiKEY and remains resident on what will become the host computer.
After installation, you will need to reboot the host system. After that, you need to leave the computer powered up if you want to access it. However, you don't need to be logged in or have any other programs running.
That is because the second part of the remote access system is a network operations center run by Route1, the company that owns MobiKEY.
When you insert the third part of the system, the MobiKEY itself, into any computer with an Internet connection, it will connect to the NOC and verify you are who you say you are. Then it will give you full access to your still-running desktop computer.
A huge plus is that we were able to set up remote access without having to change anything on the firewall or monkey around with any security settings.
And on the remote-client side, nothing had to be done at all. The entire interface is kept in memory and erased when the session is finished. Nothing from your network touches the remote system. All your files stay in place on the host computer or your servers.
This means you can even access your desktop from a public terminal and not have to worry that the next person in line will be able to read your mail.
Like any remote system, accessing it does not really feel like sitting at your desktop. There is some lag time that will be increase with slower connections.Chaotic network
The GCN Lab test network, especially at the end of the year following hundreds of experiments and before its annual clean-up, is best described as chaotic. There are programs, security devices, monitoring software logs and even active test routines flying back and forth, and all of them can be accessed from a master-client system where we installed MobiKEY. Then we attempted to do the same thing from the remote location. It was not very difficult. Clicking on any icon launched the correct program with only a slight delay.
There are a couple of things you will need to get used to when working remotely with MobiKEY. First, you can't type CTRL-ALT and DEL on your remote client. Doing do will simply bring up the control panel on the remote system you are using to access your files. But you can hit CTRL-ALT and the Backspace or System key instead. This forces the host system to ghost tap the DEL key, which is needed to log into most Windows operating systems.
Also, if you have multiple hosts assigned to your MobiKEY, you simply hit CRTL-D to switch to others, kind of like using a KVM switch.
All data sent from your remote system to the host system is protected by 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard encryption, so you are leaving no trace of your work on the remote host, and your data can't be intercepted.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.