Steve Wozniaks Wheels of Zeus is beginning to roll, and enterprise data protection is one destination on the Apple Computer Inc. co-founders mind.
Wozniak offered a peek into his vision for the company on Ziff Davis Medias Security Virtual Tradeshow, where he introduced “wOz Location-Based Encryption,” an application that uses GPS tracking within a wireless hub to encrypt and decrypt sensitive data for large businesses.
Wheels of Zeus, which launched in 2001 with backing from three big-name venture capital firms, has developed a wireless platform to power a range of location-based monitoring and notification services, and Wozniak believes data protection is a natural extension of the companys business.
“Hundreds of thousands of notebooks and laptops are stolen or lost every year and, when that happens, sensitive corporate data is gone out the door,” Wozniak said, citing FBI statistics that show that 98 percent of all stolen laptops are never recovered.
With wOz Location-Based Encryption, Wozniak said companies can guard against the unauthorized removal of data outside of safe zones by using GPS tracking tied to the proprietary wOzNet, which serves as a local wireless network.
The application involves the use of a dongle attached to the laptop that communicates wirelessly with a base station controlled by an enterprise IT department.
According to Wozniaks vision, the IT department sets specific “safe zones” where the laptop/device can be used, allowing an environment where the location of the laptop is known at all times and where access can be denied entirely if a safe zone is breached.
When the employee logs in, the device automatically requests valid zone information from the dongle. Once the preset zones are approved, the dongle regularly requests GPS positioning as a key to decrypting data to allow access. All the while, Wozniak said the internal base station is continually checking with the dongle for disconnect.
Once everything clears approval, the dongle decrypts the data based on the preset zone data. This, Wozniak explained, would automatically block an employee or a thief from picking up a laptop and moving out of a building without the IT departments approval.
He said the true value of the application kicks in when there is unauthorized removal of a device containing corporate secrets. “Remember, the dongle is constantly requesting GPS positioning, so once theres an out-of-zone reading, it triggers an automatic encryption of data, and alerts are sent to on-site security or to relevant authorities.
“The dongle can be programmed to delete data or shut down sections of the device. Once the computer is removed from the physical zone, the keys are lost or unavailable, and the hard disk is gibberish,” Wozniak added.
What if the dongle is removed? “It is automatically detected by the base station and reported immediately. Decryption of the data is done through the dongle, so no dongle means no use of critical data,” Wozniak explained.
Using device-location history, a cookie-crumb trail will help with retrieval of the stolen or lost laptop, he said.
In highly sensitive environments, the application can be integrated with audio alerts and sensors to trigger early warnings, said Wozniak, who is president and chief technology officer of the Los Gatos, Calif.-based Wheels of Zeus.
“The biggest benefit of this is very simplified usage,” he said. “The company defines where the computer can or cant be used. You set up the PC to operate in one location, but not others, and you can also approve operation in multiple environments, all based on GPS tracking.”
Throughout the entire process, Wozniak said the encryption key is controlled in a central location through a secure transmission. Because the wOz Platform and the wOzNet network are proprietary, he said it is not open to Wi-Fi spoofing or password sniffing.
For companies with mobile work forces that move from location to location with laptops, he said the application may require multiple base stations.
Wozniak did not provide details on pricing for the application or a timeline for release. Company officials could not be reached to discuss commercial rollout.
Wheels of Zeus already has a deal with Motorola Inc. to develop devices and services for location-based monitoring of pets and other important possessions, but not much is known about the types of devices being created.
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