Editor’s note: A recent series of incidents involving exposure of sensitive data – such as secretive information from nuclear labs at Los Alamos, N.M. – on portable devices clearly demonstrate the need for protection of that information. Encryption is one means of doing so. R.T. Crowley, senior vice president for alliance development and intellectual property at Research Triangle Software, offers his thoughts on the matter. RTS has developed CryptoLock software as a means of encryption.

CARY, N.C. – The issue of data security now touches every individual on Earth in a very personal way.

The massive databases of necessary personal information once accessible only with large mainframe computers can now be transported on portable devices from laptop computers to the so-called “thumb drive” to the iPod and digital cameras. This leaves open the real possibility of loss or theft of the devices, resulting in the data being compromised, and that affects everyone.

This data is not merely corporate records, but also personal information now open for use for the crime of identity theft and a host of other problems:

Personnel and personal records kept by government agencies like the U.S. Veterans Administration and corporations like the Long Island Railroad have been lost this way.

Information on highly classified nuclear secrets from the Los Alamos National Laboratory recently has been discovered in insecure locations.

Classified U.S. military information on troop movements and deployments has turned up on thumb drives being sold openly in the bazaars and markets in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All of these incidents have occurred during the past year.

The standard reaction to any of this on the part of the affected government agencies and private corporations has been to attempt to limit the use of the data storage technology needed by banning the use of the devices named above, but while this may curb the problem temporarily, it could have been solved had the documents been encrypted instead of being fully readable.

Data must have the ability to move between computers and systems, but when that movement is done with fully readable data, the door is flung wide for it to be lost, stolen, and otherwise compromised.

Devices such as the CryptoStick portable data storage and encryption device and CryptoLock software from Research Triangle Software can make these incidents fully preventable.

For example, in the Los Alamos incident, a memory device containing 22 pages of highly classified nuclear secrets was discovered in a mobile home near the laboratory. The removal the material from the site should not have occurred, but would have been less critical the documents been properly encrypted.

Security Doesn’t Have To Be A ‘Black Art’

Most people continue to see encryption as arcane practice, one of the “black arts” used only by spies and military personnel, and then only understood by a few technical people. Secure encryption systems, however, are available even to individuals, and are as easy to use as a word processor. The CryptoLock software operates using the same drag-and-drop techniques used in any modern application, providing a high level of security with very little effort. The CryptoStick portable data storage and encryption device carries the CryptoLock software, as well as other applications, and provides a means to carry the data in a secure manner.

Data, in and of itself, regardless of the information it contains, has become a valuable commodity, and should be protected when being moved between computers. Carrying it in an unencrypted form is simply asking for a problem. Even if the data itself is not the target of a thief bent upon stealing the laptop left casually on a seat next to a passenger in an airport waiting area, the theft of the device will still compromise the data. If the thief then realizes the value of the data found on that laptop, the problem is compounded when it is sold and used for nefarious purposes.

Protect Your Individual, Corporate Identity

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, and affects each one of us in a very personal manner. The means to protect our valuable personal data is available for less than $50, and will provide another level of insurance against the criminal preying on our unguarded moments. Any personal or financial information stored on our home computers should be properly encrypted to keep it secure. This is a type of protection for ourselves and our families we cannot afford to neglect, and is so easy to implement, we have no excuse for neglecting it.

Data security has become an issue for all governments, corporations, and individuals around the world. It extends deeply into our personal lives, and touches everyone around us. While no single solution will end the problem, proper security procedures, including encryption, correctly implemented will bring it under control. Research Triangle Software encourages all corporations, governments, and individuals to take these steps to protect all of us from these all too common security breaches.