miercuri, 22 august 2007

Flash drive offers PIN security

Memory company Corsair has come up with an ingeniously simple way to secure USB flash drives without having to remember a password – build a PIN-based ‘padlock’ into the drive itself.

As the picture on the company website makes apparent, the new Flash Padlock drive has a five-button PIN interface on each drive, into which the user hits the unlock code before accessing the drive. Doing this is as simple as hitting an unlock button on the unit and then entering the chosen code, which can be up to ten numbers in length.

For extra security, the Flash Padlock automatically unlocks itself each time it is removed from a PC, so users don’t actually have to remember anything beyond the PIN number to use the drive securely. The drive requires no special software to operate.

An added benefit compared to password-based products is that the Flash Padlock partitions the drive as a singe partition – password-based drives reserve a separate partition for the security driver itself.

The company’s argument is that users feel more at home using simple PIN codes than having to load specialised software designed to choose and manage passwords.

Rival products in the USB storage segment invariably come with some kind of software security, but there is no evidence that the average user actually turns on such security.

Building a PIN number touchpad into a drive sounds like an intuitive feature, as long as the code itself isn’t forgotten. To get round that problem, users are invited to register their PIN code on Corsair’s website. If the PIN is forgotten, the code can then be retrieved by supplying a valid email address and password.

Beyond describing the PIN system, Corsair’s description of the drives inner security workings, and any use of encryption, is vague. Presumably, the PIN is stored on a physically separate memory location within the drive.

Flash Padlock costs $29.95 (£15) and $39.95 (£20) for the 1Gb and 2Gb capacities on offer, and can be used on Windows 2000, XP, Vista and Apple OS X.

Google Earth plug-in adds space exporation

Google is offering a new add-on for Google Earth, called Sky, that lets users explore space and see photos of the precise star formation overhead based on their locale.

Users can now tap Google to peruse astrological wonders such as the Crab Nebula, an expanding remnant of a supernova 6,300 light years from earth. Markers within the star photos pull in explanatory text from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Overlays outline constellations such as Leo, illustrate phases of the moon and show how the planets visible from Earth orbit over two months.

Google Sky uses high-resolution imagery from the Space Telescope Science Institute, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Digital Sky Survey Consortium, CalTech's Palomar Observatory, the UK's Astronomy Technology Centre, the Anglo-Australian Observatory as well as NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

The imagery covers 100 million stars and 200 million galaxies, Google said.

While much space imagery is already available online, Google's goal was to make it more accessible by wrapping it into its Google Earth program, which previously focused on satellite images of earth. The project came out of the Google's engineering team in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

"Zoom in to distant galaxies hundreds of millions of light years away, explore the constellations, see the planets in motion, witness a supernova explosion; it's like having a giant, virtual telescope at your command - your own personal planetarium," wrote Lior Ron, a Google product manager on the Google Earth and Maps team blog.

Using the service requires a new download of Google Earth.

While Google Earth is free for regular users, it also offers a commercial version, Earth Enterprise, that lets businesses attach their own data to satellite imagery and host the information on their own server.

Microsoft sells an enterprise version of its Virtual Earth platform, a mapping and imagery service that enterprises can tie into their own applications.