Bits & Bytes
MAKING SURE THOSE MESSAGES ARE FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
National Semiconductor Corp. believes that the secret is in the cards. The Santa Clara (Calif.) chipmaker has created a plug-in computer card that can easily shield computer data or messages coming in from the Information Superhighway from prying eyes. With the iPower card, to be introduced on Jan. 12, users can send and receive coded messages or identify themselves simply by plugging the credit-card-size device into a computer with a PCMCIA socket.
The problem with most password-security systems is that people often write down their passwords on paper or store them on their computers, where hackers or unauthorized people may find them. But the iPower card, which users would keep with them, contains a specialized chip with a microprocessor, coding and decoding algorithms, and a unique electronic "key"--all impervious to hacking. The recipient of such a coded message can read it only by using his or her card. National hopes to sell millions of the cards for under $100 apiece to the government. The system could also protect movies, video games, or other software that companies wish to send to customers. Marketing Director William Sweet says his product is "the prescription for one of the ills of our information society." As long as you don't lose your card.EDITED BY RICHARD BRANDT