The product is larger than a conventional 3G card, but doubles as a network card and a laptop “ignition key”. The laptop's drives are encrypted, and the card contains all encryption keys and network passwords so the laptop cannot be used unless it is inserted. It contains an embedded Linux system, and a GPS receiver, as well as its own five-day batteries, so it can be used to remotely locate and disable any laptop that goes missing.
The Guardian, known in full as the Alcatel Lucent OmniAccess 3500 Nonstop Laptop Guardian, was launched in the US late last year, and is being made available there by Sprint. A European version has taken a few extra months to develop because of the different SIM-based authentication method used by GSM, 3G and HSDPA.
“Without this, the laptop is an expensive paperweight,” said Ken Georgiades, assistant general manager for mobile security in Alcatel Lucent's enterprise business division. The product has no impact on laptop performance, as it is entirely self-contained, and charges through the laptop when it is plugged in.
The product will not be available direct from Alcatel Lucent, but will be bundled with cellular data services from mobile operators. In the UK, the first of these are likely to be smaller business-oriented MVNOs, as it takes a long while for larger operators to sign deals.
“This is the first implementation of centralised open source encryption using TrueCrypt,” said Dor Skuler, general manager of mobile security solutions. Alcatel Lucent added key management to TrueCrypt, open-source that encrypts disks in real-time on the fly.
Other possible solutions to this problem involve thin clients, and software applications that wipe laptop data if they are reported missing. These suffer from various weaknesses, as the thin client may contain residual data, and remote control systems rely on the laptop's own connectivity, and may also delete data irreversibly. With the Guardian, data can be recovered when the device is re-enabled.
IT managers buying the product won't see the price broken out separately, but Alcatel Lucent staff said there was a target to produce it at a cost around 100 euros more than the price of a conventional 3G/HSDPA data card.