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Increasing Computer Security through Hardware? 69

Audiostar asks: "I am interested in adding some security to several of my computers, but am unsure as to which product to go with. I would like to use some sort of external security measure, such as a pen drive token or something similar. I had considered custom building a key card and reader to install on all my machines, but once I started thinking about the cost and time of building a card reader for each of my computers it became rather impractical. Does anyone have any suggestions for external locking devices or software? I would prefer something that I could use on both my Windows and Linux machines, but protecting the Windows machines are the top priority. I don't need anything too fancy, just an added layer of protection from the multitude of various people who come in and out of my place of business everyday. I own a 128mb flash disk watch, so possibly using that as a token would be both easy and geek chic. Any suggestions on what to install?"
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Increasing Computer Security through Hardware?

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  • How about this (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MarsDefenseMinister ( 738128 ) <> on Friday March 19, 2004 @12:49AM (#8606852) Homepage Journal
    Use a password to log in. And set your screensaver to activate, with a password, after a short amount of time.
    • But how would that be any fun, I mean, a few major problems with this idea

      * Way Way too cheap: Technology is supposed to drain your wallet

      * Too Mundane: everybody has a screensaver, who's impressed by that nowadays

      * Breakable: reboot into single user mode? If you encrypt all your files with a key stored on a usb flash thingy, then you'll be all set

      • Breakable: reboot into single user mode?

        lilo/grub password (or even BIOS password).

  • by Motherfucking Shit ( 636021 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @12:50AM (#8606858) Journal
    I don't need anything too fancy, just an added layer of protection from the multitude of various people who come in and out of my place of business everyday.
    I've had a good deal of success with one of these [].

    Nobody's compromised any of my machines yet!
  • Keep your most valued files on your usb key.
  • Why not just use a smart card? Assuming that you run windows on your rig, it has built-in support for're just trying to keep a few simple documents safe, right? Nothing THAT important?
    • My apologies for double posting, but a far as commercial products go, this doesn't seem like a bad solution.... There is also a Linux SDK, if you want to go down that road......
  • by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @01:10AM (#8606959) Journal
    I don't need anything too fancy, just an added layer of protection from the multitude of various people who come in and out of my place of business everyday.

    Really fucking big neodynium magnet installed in the door frame of the entrance to your office.

    (Shamelessly stolen from Cryptonomicon. I guess Neal Stephenson should have used a bigger magnet.)
  • by ezraekman ( 650090 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @01:12AM (#8606965) Homepage

    Don't use the watch. You'll smack it against something, and then you're screwed. Ditto for a generic USB flash drive, unless you're sure it's bulletproof. Get something reliable, or don't get anything. If you want to be sure you're covered, buy three of whatever it is. Keep one handy, one in a fireproof safe/lockbox on the premises, and one at home. If your only hardware key gets hosed, so do you.

    Oh, and KISS. You're right; the cardkey isn't practical, and not just because it'd be difficult/expensive to build. It would probably also be something prohibitively difficult to troubleshoot, should you have problems later. Then you have to call a specialist, and hope he's A) cheap and B) can figure out how to solve your custom-built (and therefore, proprietary) hardware problem. You're probably on the right track with small, removable hardware. Just make sure it's also reliable, or it's useless.

  • by Phoe6 ( 705194 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @01:48AM (#8607148) Homepage Journal
    Fritz is a secure cryptoprocessor [] that implements the trusted computing scheme on personal computers. It uses public key cryptography for the processes communicating amongst themselves. So it would always be helpful unless the security measure is broken by an exact match comprosimed Fritz Chip. ( Which would ofcourse need some quantum computing cycles). So we can assume that it cannot be compromized till date. M$ has plans to incorporate Fritz Chip in the next OS,Longhorn.
  • A lock (Score:3, Interesting)

    by metalhed77 ( 250273 ) <{andrewvc} {at} {}> on Friday March 19, 2004 @01:50AM (#8607164) Homepage
    Maybe a good lock for your door? Other than that something that's easy to use, and somewhat less easy to break in case it fails or you lose a key. Who exactly is going to be stealing this data? You could always go out and get one of systems cards that'll fry a hard disk if someone attempts to tamper with it but I think that you're not at that level of data sensitivity. Perhaps nothing more than an encrypted filesystem (easy in windows XP) is needed.
    • Mod parent up. It sounds like this guy just needs a room with a lock on it that the "public" isn't allowed into. IF he isn't using internet, I'd say don't hook up a modem and make sure you're networked computers don't have internet access. Then all he really needs is physical security. Hire a guy for min. wage to set in front of the computers, prevent them from walking off and unauthorized usage. Not geeky solutions but they will work. I setup my kids computer with Win2000 without a modem and it isn't hook
  • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    People that come in and out of my place of business.

    You mean, like, customers??? Are you implying that these customers are unsupervised for a period of time lengthy enough to get into your computer and do something to it, or read some personal files? Maybe you should invest in something larger than a USB device. ThinkGeek doesn't sell what I'm talking about, but you could find it at the local unemployment office. Thats right, I'm talking about hiring an employee!!!

    If an employee is beyond your means,
    • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

      by 0x0d0a ( 568518 )
      His complaint is legitimate, even if not for this particular case. "Locking" a Windows or Linux box does nothing for security if someone happens to have a rescue disc handy (well, other than let you possibly know that the machine has rebooted).
      • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Informative)

        by toast0 ( 63707 )
        Lock down the bios*, so it only boots from the hard drive. Password protect your lilo.

        Yes, you can open the case, and fiddle with the lose bios settings jumper, but one hopes you'ld notice when they open the case.

        *Many bioses have a backdoor password, make sure yours doesn't, or at the least it's not a common one.

        • An interesting idea I've always had would be to do that, encrypt (parts of) your hard drive, and then stick a key in your CMOS memory, in an unused area. (In Linux, this can be accessed through /dev/nvram, but be aware that all your CMOS is there, so writing to it randomly will cause your machine to end up with gibberish settings.) This lets the machine work normally, even booting up and decrypting automatically with that key, but ensures they can't just reset the CMOS and instantly be in.

          Of course, you ne

          • 30 seconds instead of 3... So it takes 10 reboots before being profitable... That's what, at least a year (because of power outages, and I'm not even there when that happens usually) so I think I'll continue being lazy and not caring at all that my reboots take 3 seconds more...
            • I knew someone as going to claim that, but it still doesn't make any sense. You'd have to postulate an enviroment where you often change out hard drives, but rarely reboot. Just because the second is true doesn't mean the first is, and in fact that combination doesn't seem to make any sense.

              And 30 seconds (Which is probably about twice or even three times as long as actually required.) compared to the time required to open the case and swap out the hard drive is minisucle, in addition to the time required

      • Just don't install a cdrom or floppy drive in the machine, or remove them after you install the OS.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Audiostar ( 734627 )
      Now, if you'd like to admit that you're business is being run out of your dorm room, and you only want something "cool" to lock out your buddies in the dorm, then maybe you'd get some better advice.

      That is truly +2 insightful. You got me. I want to protect my computer mostly from my annoying RA and frat buddies, not the freelance graphic designers I occasionally employ that aren't monitored constantly while they are working. I can only guess that you are making this assumption based on the fact that my
  • by jargonCCNA ( 531779 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @02:25AM (#8607307) Homepage Journal
    Check out the Securikey [] on ThinkGeek. I'm not sure if someone's written Linux drivers for it, but there's your hardware level -- and it's two-factor.
  • I don't know about the windows part im afraid but for Linux there is pam_usb [] that works with all XDM/GDM/KDM and other PAM aware login and autentication programs. Its a simple public/private key system with the private key residing on a USB-memory.
  • by sgifford ( 9982 ) <> on Friday March 19, 2004 @02:52AM (#8607418) Homepage Journal
    This hardware encrypted hard drive [] might be part of what you're looking for.
    • Oh yeah, that reminds me, I've seen something like that before: the Abit SecureIDE []. It's a USB key + inline IDE device that encrypts (using 40bit DES, not massively strong) the contents of the HDD at the hardware level, so isn't device-driver dependant. Can't say I've tried it, but it looks interesting and relatively cheap (~40USD).

      Of course, as others have already pointed out, if someone determined has got unmonitored physical access to your hardware then the game is pretty much lost anyway... though a

      • Ooops, sorry - got that a bit wrong: the key *isn't USB*. From the looks of it it's a proprietry device with a Firewire-like connector that plugs into a mount on a blanking plate (supplied) which in turn connects to the inline IDE device. Bit of a pain in that it'd require a bit of work with a dremel to make it front-mounted, but equally means it's fully integrated with no additional hardware requirements.
  • Hello,

    you may look for PKCS#11 enabled smartcard USB tokens. If you go for this, you can use the token email and disk encryption software, use it for Secure Single Signon and have it as a "bunker" for for you gpg/pgp keys and certificates.


  • I'm no MS fan, but essentially, you're looking for hardware authentication, if I read correctly, or some certification that the user is entitled to do what the code is asking to do...

    While its _main_ point is not necessarily that, the paladium arch is designed essentially to ensure that..

    on a less trenchcoat idea, 2.6 comes w/ a USB root key module, you might wanna check the source if palladium aint up your ally though
  • I know because I got one with my motherboard []. it was a flat orange USB "smart key". Apparently, it would prevent the computer from booting if you enabled it in the BIOS and it wasn't connected. I'm not sure if it was restricted to a single computer but if you lost [] the [] key [], you were in trouble...

    Suffice to say, I wasn't game enough to enable it... I can barely remember what I had for lunch yesterday...

  • Try this... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by b06r011 ( 763282 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @04:21AM (#8607688)
    i downloaded Float's Mobile Agent [] and noticed that with the bluetooth connection, there is an option to automatically lock the workstation when your phone is out of (bluetooth) range. i haven't used it myself, but it looks kinda handy - the number of times i have remembered to pick up my mobile, but not lock the workstation.

    and if you really want to make your pc hardware secure, have you tried padlocking it to the wall? :)
  • See if there's any product that lets you use a Bluetooth mobile phone (or PDA) as the key that locks and unlocks your workstation. Then it will secure as you walk away and unlock as you return.
  • by FLEB ( 312391 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @04:36AM (#8607741) Homepage Journal
    Keep the important stuff on an external HDD, and handcuff it to your wrist.

    (Note: this is not meant to be a constructive idea)

  • Er? Bad question! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dasunt ( 249686 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @08:27AM (#8608420)

    Audiostar asks: "I am interested in adding some security to several of my computers, but am unsure as to which product to go with...

    Er, what sort of security?

    A simple bios boot password will prevent the computer-naive from accessing your machine.

    GnuPG under Windows and the unix clones will allow you to encrypt/decrypt and digitally sign files.

    The unix clones tend to be able to encrypt their entire filesystem by whatever algorythm you want. NTFS claims some sort of filesystem encryption as well, but I'm unfamiliar with the mechanism and thus won't recommend it.

    OpenBSD has encrypted swap and tends to be tops on the 'utterly paranoid' scale.

    How about you tell us what you are trying to do exactly, and we'll tell you the best solution.

    • Re:Er? Bad question! (Score:2, Informative)

      by DavidTC ( 10147 )
      NTFS encryption is exactly as good as Windows security.

      Haha. No, seriously, the concept behind NTFS encryption is great. It keeps keys with login creditials, and they're decrypted with your login password. I forget the algorythm, but it's not some snake oil crap, it's a real, heavy duty encryption thing. Linux could use something like it, it's so amazingly transparent and just works correctly.

      The problem, of course, is that administrator has all the keys, and administrator isn't anywhere near protected en

      • Not true.

        An administrator can reset a key, but cannot read it. When you reset a key, documents become unrecoverable.

        Most places who are seriously considering using file encryption implement security policies that eliminate things like local administrative accounts and check some of the powers of administrative users.

        For example, data that is protected by HIPPA law in the US can be deleted, moved or indexed by a computer administrator, but cannot be modified. Only users with a business need to view/manipu
        • Administrators certainly can read data by default in NTFS. The way it works is that all data is encrypted to them and the user who owns the file.

          Whether or not you can set it up any other way I don't know, but that's how it works by default.

          And setting up no local adminstrator account is insanely stupid...what if the network drivers break?

          • If the network drivers "break", you reimage the box. Of course, if you are in a well-run business network, this doesn't happen because users don't install software and IT tests new apps against common workstation images.

            If you have the budget to spend lots of time dianosing arcane workstation issues, you are misspending your budget.

            The most important thing in data security is policy & practices. If you or your IT people are ignorant of the system that they work with to the point that they allow anonym
            • I don't think anyone said anonymous users or even known users should have access to Administator.

              I was just taking issue with the concept of removing the account. By all means, IT are the only people who should have access to it, but it still needs to exist.

              Otherwise you will run into incredible stupid things like having to reimage a drive because your network card failed. Which despite whatever you may claim, is not an effective way to run a business, especially a business with important enough data that

  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @10:52AM (#8609542)

    Security is a tradeoff, go too far and you end up being so annoyed with it that you bypass your measures and become less secure. So decide how far you need to go.

    I'm, not impressed with hardware security, other than keeping important files on the USB keychain at your side. (And even then you need regular backups kept in a good data safe) Do a web search and you can find information on how to fake fingerprints. You can find keyboard loggers, which a well equipped attacker can modify into a more general logger to simulate your hardware device. (though I doubt you are worth that much effort, and encryption can prevent man in the middle attacks like this if you are)

    Personally I would build a network, save all my files to a UNIX (openBSD perhaps) box in a secure area, and mount that disk everytime I was at the machine, and unmount it when I was done.

    Don't forget access control lists. If the user you leave the machine logged in as cannot access files you have one less worry. Window has pretty good ACLs if you use them.

  • by jonadab ( 583620 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @11:14AM (#8609819) Homepage Journal
    You didn't tell us -- are you protecting against vandalism (some clown messing
    up the settings, deleting stuff, whatever) or against information theft? The
    solution will be completely different.

    To protect against vandalism, nothing beats nightly offsite backups, nothing.

    To protect against information theft, how about storing the informationg in
    question on an external device that you keep on your person? Then when they
    go to steal it, it's not there. Hard to beat that.
  • Abit SecureIDE (Score:4, Informative)

    by Asterisk ( 16357 ) on Friday March 19, 2004 @01:57PM (#8612006)
    Abit makes a product [] that sits between the IDE port on your motherboard and the hard drive. It encrypts all of the data on-the-fly and requires a small dongle to be plugged in externally to work. Combine that with a good case lock, and you should be all set.
  • Ever think about it? Padlocks! Bolts! LASER BEAMS!

    Think more about the room, and less about the chincy little card reader someone could easily rip out of the front of your case, or better yet just snag the HDD from your system and proceed to hack your data..
  • (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Sunday March 21, 2004 @07:46PM (#8629738) Homepage Journal
    If someone has physical access and determination, nothing you do will be 100%..

    All you can do is slow them down..

    Enabling bios passwords, disabling boot from anything but the HD, storing data on the servers, and good system passwords should be enough to keep out the casuals...

  • Remove the HDD and lock it in a safe.

    Install a lock on the case, cut the wire from the start button to the motherboard, insert keyswitch like the old keyboard locks.

    Should just about do it.

A committee takes root and grows, it flowers, wilts and dies, scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom. -- Parkinson