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IBM introduces ThinkPad with fingerprint reader

Hoping to make biometric devices mainstream products, IBM has unveiled its first ThinkPad featuring an integrated fingerprint reader that will work with an embedded security system.

The reader is built into the wrist rest of selected ThinkPad T42 models so users can swipe their finger across a horizontally oriented, 0.5in-wide sensor that allows them to log on to their systems, as well as specific applications, websites and databases.

Also bundled with the systems is an updated version of Client Security Software 5.4 that features a secure password manager.

"Some smaller players in the PC market have introduced biometric devices, but I believe we are the first to launch a fingerprint reader with an onboard security chip. That combination can give you the sort of real security improvements that are not possible with either piece alone," said Clain Anderson, IBM's programme director for security and wireless products.

According to Anderson, the password manager contained in Version 5.4 of the Client Security Software serves like a "password bank", where users can store dozens of passwords and logins for applications and websites that are tied to the fingerprint reader. This allows users to go directly to a specific application or website. The software is capable of handling complex pass phrases that can be used interchangeably or in combinations.

"One swipe of the reader supplies you with the hard drive password, the power-on password, and let's you go to the Windows desktop all at once," Anderson said. "I have some 30 or so entries like my bank account, Hotmail account for home, Fidelity retirement account, and my VPN for dialing in from home," he said.

All passwords and logins in the password manager are encrypted with the built-in security chip, Anderson said.

Some analysts said the combination of the reader and embedded security system is a notable advance on existing security technologies for mobile devices and should bring greater awareness among users.

"What is interesting is they have tied the reader into their security sub-system, which gives it much broader applicability. The embedded system not only gives you access to the system but also ties into a broad array of policies," said Leslie, Fiering, vice-president of mobile computing at Gartner. "The embedded security hides authentication to policy regarding actions a user can take."

The scanning takes a few seconds, IBM officials said. The fingerprint reader can capture more data than a typical "picture" capture window because it is capable of scanning more of the fingertip's surface area, cutting down on the possibility of misidentification, company officials said.

The biggest threat to security among mobile devices is theft, with estimates among industry analysts ranging anywhere from 700,000 to 1 million laptops being stolen each year. More costly than the unit itself is the value of the data contained in a notebook. According to the 2003 Annual Computer Crime and Security Survey, the value of the information in an average notebook is $250,000 (£140,000).

In a related announcement, IBM and Utimaco Safeware announced that IBM is authorised to resell Utimaco's software that providers users with the ability to fully encrypt their entire hard drive. This protects against unauthorised access in the case where notebooks are stolen or lost.

Utimaco officials claim the Safeguard Easy product is the first full drive encryption product to be compatible with IBM's Rescue and Recovery technology that can automatically archive and restore all lost data on an entire hard drive.

Prices for the ThinkPad T42 with the reader and security system start at $1,699, which includes the $50 cost of the reader. The system is expected to be broadly available in two weeks, company officials said.

Ed Scannell writes for InfoWorld


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