Jeff LeRose’s latest invention sounds like something out of a James Bond movie.

Just in time for InfoTech today, LeRose is unveiling “CryptoStick”.

Think of an iPod — but instead of music it’s packed with megs of data encrypted and protected by “CryptoBuddy” software.

“This is a blockbuster,” LeRose declares.

He may be right.

In these days of heightened concerns about security and encryption of sensitive data, the founder of Research Triangle Software is playing “Q” to executives, developers and engineers who don’t want to lug an encryption-loaded laptop through airport security. And with projections of an encryption market hitting $11 billion or more (International Data Corporation) in the near future, LeRose is banking that “CryptoStick” will deliver big bucks to his fledgling startup.

“What’s cool about this is that a lot of people carry laptops with them. They have sensitive data on that laptop, and they don’t have access to a secure computer on the other end (for presentations),” LeRose says. “They put that data on another computer and it always leaves trails.

“What we do is we take the files, encrypt them on the ‘stick’, they plug it right in to the USB port on a secure computer or make a presentation that’s decrypted on the stick. When they finish the presentation, they pull the stick off and there’s no trace of the presentation on the hard drive because the stick uses flash memory.”

No more sending unsecure e-mail or carrying around disks — encrypted or not, he says. And if a CryptoStick is lost, he contends few people outside of government spooks will crack the encrypted data.

Patent pending technology

The CryptoStick, for which LeRose already has filed a patent, comes preloaded with CryptoBuddy encryption software which RTS released earlier this year. And LeRose said the presentation machine doesn’t need CryptoBuddy in order to keep data secure.

Like an iPod, CryptoStick also is small — about the size of a Bic cigarette lighter, LeRose says — and is small enough to be attached to a key chain.

Each CryptoStick can pack in 32 megs for $49.95 or up to 2 gigs. Storage, LeRose says. One goal, he adds, “is to put an entire desktop on a stick.”

“The only problem we’ve had with it is the decal,” he says. CryptoSticks already are being produced and are supposed to have a removable decal in case the buyer doesn’t want anyone to readily know he or she is carrying data, not lighter fluid.

As long as a PC has a USB port and operates on Windows versions later than ’95, CryptoSticks can be used, LeRose says. And since data is compressed, he adds that data transfer is very fast.

A money maker?

Since launching CryptoBuddy, which is free, LeRose says people have been puzzled by his strategy.

“CryptoStick has always been part of the plan,” he explains. “People ask me how we’re going to make money with this when you are giving away the software. I said just wait, just wait.”

Now that CryptoBuddy has been seeded in the market through downloads at some 100 sites, LeRose says more people are aware of his company and provide a potential base of embedded customers.

From the start, LeRose has been focused on making encryption simple. CryptoStick follows the same plan, he says. “This is very straight forward and easy to use.”

To make the product readily exportable, LeRose also has kept CryptoStick and CryptoBuddy at 64 bit rather than 128 bit. The federal government is still very concerned about exporting higher-end encryption technology. “The feds get nervous,” he says. “The CIA or NSA can get into it,” he adds, referring to the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency.

LeRose also contends that 128-bit technology “won’t work on a lot of operating systems.”

The idea for CryptoStick was developed internally, LeRose says, and he retained law firm Kilpatrick Stockton to file the patent.