IBM Puts Security at Your Fingertips

Looking to lock up your notebook and its data? IBM is offering you a new choice: its already attractive Thinkpad T42 series now integrates a fingerprint reader. And it will only cost you about $50 more than a similarly-configured T42 without the biometric scanner.

The systems will ship on October 19, starting at $1699. For that, you get a 1.6-GHz Intel Pentium M 725 CPU, a 14.1-inch screen, 40GB hard drive, 256MB of RAM, a combination DVD-ROM and CD-RW drive, and Windows XP Professional. You also get good connectivity options, including gigabit Ethernet, 802.11a/b/g wireless, and Bluetooth. This configuration of the T42 weighs about 4.5 pounds, according IBM.

A higher-end system, which sells for $2349, upgrades you to a 1.8-GHz Pentium M 745 processor, 512MB of RAM, and a 15-inch screen. Operating system and connectivity options remain the same. These units do weigh a little more: 5.3 pounds, according to IBM.

Rated battery life for both configurations ranges from about 5 hours with the 6-cell included battery to over 7 hours for the 9 cell optional battery ($179).

Practice Makes Perfect

The reader is located on the right side of the palm rest, generally out of the way for touch typists. You can configure it to log you in to your system and your network with a swipe of your finger.

As with all fingerprint readers, you will have to practice to cut down on false negatives. But false positives are a fraction of one percent, says Clain Anderson, IBM Program Director for Security and Wireless.

Anderson expects the integrated readers will next show up on IBM's ultra portable X series of notebooks, depending on customer demand.

The systems also come with IBM's embedded security chip and Client Security Software, now in version 5.4. These items, in conjunction with the fingerprint reader, allow you to manage passwords and log ins on network and Web sites, among other functions.

The new version of the software boasts easier setup and use, and comes preloaded. You can input the sites and services that require a password log in, then set it up so that you just press a hot key when you're going to such a service, swipe your finger on the biometric scanner, and it authenticates you automatically. You can configure the initial power-on authentication for multiple users (up to 20 "fingers"); the password management software lets store profiles for multiple people as well, but fewer of them (up to 10 "fingers").

IBM is also now reselling Utimaco Safeware software, which lets users encrypt an entire hard drive for additional protection. This software prevents someone from, for example, taking the hard drive and accessing it on another PC, or taking a drive image and analyzing it, Anderson explains.

Acer launched a notebook with an embedded fingerprint scanner back in 2001. Compaq (prior to its purchase by HP) used to offer one.

Anderson says IBM has considered adding a reader to its notebooks for a while, but the company believes that only now has the performance of the devices, the space they take on a system, and their price (down to an added $50 from $100 to $175) made it worthwhile.

For more security devices, check PC World's recent roundup of products from the August 2004 issue.

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