Bull Crams Crypto Chips Into Bootable USB Hard Disk Drive

Bull has a gadget for businesses worried about the security of data stored on laptops: a bootable, portable password-protected hard disk drive with an embedded cryptographic processor that protects data if the device is lost or stolen.

Globull (pronounced globule) is a bright red package about the size and weight of an iPod Classic. It has a color display, houses a 60G-byte hard disk drive and has a USB 2.0 cable that wraps around the device for storage.

Plug it into any PC that can boot from an external USB 2.0 drive, switch on the computer, enter your password on Globull's tiny touch-sensitive display, and you have access to your regular working environment, applications and data. Switch off the computer again and you can take your data away without leaving a trace, according to Bull.

Most recent PCs have the ability to boot from an external USB (Universal Serial Bus) drive -- although IT managers may have chosen to disable this option in the BIOS settings for security reasons: it's not always desirable if staff can boot up an operating system of their choice, bypassing antivirus or other security software installed on company PCs.

The 120-gram Globull package contains the hard disk and a cryptographic processor that scrambles data on the fly at 100M bps (bits per second), using the Advanced Encryption Standard with a 256-bit key (AES-256), protecting the data if the disk is lost or stolen. Without the password, the data cannot be decrypted.

Bull envisages a number of scenarios in which the drive could be useful to secure data: mobile workers with their own laptop; staff working on shared PCs, or for performing demonstrations on a client's computer. The company suggests installing a complete operating system -- Windows or Linux -- and applications on the device, but warns buyers to ensure that their existing software licenses allow such a use.

For now, Bull is offering the device only in France, but despite the defense-level encryption it contains, there's no legal reason why it can't be sold elsewhere, said company spokeswoman Anne Marie Jourdain: Bull just preferred to concentrate on France first, and an international launch is planned for the second half of the year, she said.

Globull has a price tag of ¿460 (US$685), but the price is negotiable in quantity, Jourdain said.

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