Cypherus 2.0 review: Cypherus 2.0

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CNET Editors' Rating

3 stars Good
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Takes the mystery out of creating and sharing encrypted files; improved e-mail support; easy installation.

The Bad Clumsy interface; no on-call tech support; unresponsive e-mail tech support; can't create digital signatures.

The Bottom Line This encryption software works particularly well for storing and transferring sensitive files, but its e-mail support falls short of downloadable PGPfreeware's.

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With sophisticated viruses such as SirCam on the loose, it's more important than ever to protect your PC. You already set booby traps around your workstation and pride yourself on updating your antivirus software regularly, so why not beef up your security with encryption software? Cypherus 2.0 is an easy-to-use system for encrypting your files and folders so that they're safe from prying eyes, and it goes a long way toward battening down security hatches. Although Cypherus 2.0 finally integrates popular e-mail clients (version 1.5 did not), it still comes in second behind downloadable PGPfreeware, which offers more e-mail features, such as digital signing. With sophisticated viruses such as SirCam on the loose, it's more important than ever to protect your PC. You already set booby traps around your workstation and pride yourself on updating your antivirus software regularly, so why not beef up your security with encryption software? Cypherus 2.0 is an easy-to-use system for encrypting your files and folders so that they're safe from prying eyes, and it goes a long way toward battening down security hatches. Although Cypherus 2.0 finally integrates popular e-mail clients (version 1.5 did not), it still comes in second behind downloadable PGPfreeware, which offers more e-mail features, such as digital signing.

Pure wizardry
Cypherus's magic is born of two well-respected algorithms, or mathematical procedures. The Blowfish algorithm provides Cypherus's symmetric key encryption of files and e-mail, with a security strength ranging from 128 bits (for normal folks) to 448 bits (for the more paranoid among us). The Diffie-Hellman algorithm backs up Cypherus's public/private key exchange so that you can share data with other users.

Thankfully, Cypherus lets you change encryption strength for both keys, although it's worth noting that the lowest settings--Cypherus's default--match the industry standard for strong encryption. If you choose a higher setting, you run the risk of slowing your machine down.

A set of slick wizards greatly simplifies Cypherus's complex digital key creation process. All you do to create your key--the code that unlocks messages you encrypt--is run the installation program from the CD, then set up an account with a username and a password. The program uses your active Internet connection to register your e-mail address and add your public key to its server so that other Cypherus users can send you e-mail and files that only you can unlock. Want to hide your settings from other folks who use your PC? Create multiple usernames and assign each user a key manager profile--accessed from the system tray--where he or she can securely store passwords for other e-mail accounts and online services.

Diligent archivist
Cypherus works particularly well for encrypting and archiving folders and files that live on your hard drive, so that, for example, you can make sure hackers don't find sensitive documents or your coworkers and boss don't see your current resume. Its Autoencryptaur tool lets you easily encrypt a file, a group of files, or a group of folders. When you need to unlock a file or a group of files, simply click the Key icon in the system tray and select the name of the file from the resulting menu, and the program automatically extracts it. After you're finished with said file, just select the name again to encrypt it and drop it into an archive. Cypherus automatically erases all traces of the file from the hard drive.

This program is particularly useful for sending sensitive data over the Internet. You can use it to create archives--collections of files stored in a single, larger file--encrypted with another Cypherus user's public key, or you can create a self-extracting archive (much like a ZIP file) that anyone who knows the password can open. (PGPfreeware, on the other hand, offers no such feature.) Cypherus also compresses these encrypted archives to save drive space and speed transfer times. It's like WinZip and strong encryption software all rolled into one.

Improved e-mail support
On the e-mail encryption front, Cypherus seems to do an excellent job--at first. Version 2.0 checks your system's e-mail clients and installs the appropriate plug-ins for Outlook Express 5.5 or above, Microsoft Outlook 2000/XP, Netscape Messenger 4.7 and above (not 6.1), and Eudora 3.05 and up. Next, Cypherus adds two buttons to your e-mail program's toolbar: a Decrypt button (to unlock messages) and an Encrypt button (for sending messages). If you're logged in to Cypherus's key manager, clicking Decrypt automatically decodes e-mail sent to you. Click Encrypt, and Cypherus checks the recipients of your e-mail against its public key server. If the recipient is registered with Cypherus, the program encodes the e-mail using the recipient's public key. The automatic encryption/decryption process impressed us and left little room for error.

But despite this improved e-mail client integration, the latest version of Cypherus doesn't offer support for digital signatures, a standard feature in most e-mail encryption programs, including PGPfreeware, Netscape Messenger, and Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express. A signature verifies that the e-mail actually came from the person in question and that it hasn't been modified in transit. Frankly, we're surprised that Cypherus chose not to integrate digital signing. We also found Cypherus's e-mail plug-ins to be less refined than PGPfreeware's. You can't set Cypherus to automatically decrypt e-mail, for instance; you must always click the Decrypt button.

Good documentation; no phone support
Unlike version 1.5, Cypherus 2.0 comes with a well-written printed manual that explains basic encryption concepts and takes you step-by-step through the program's features. But technical support is available only via e-mail, although Cypherus claims that it responds to most questions within 30 minutes and promises to respond to all e-mail within 24 hours. However, we submitted a simple query via the support site and waited more than 40 hours for a response.

If you're looking to create encrypted archives on your PC or to send those archives securely over the Internet, Cypherus is a good choice. Its e-mail support, though, could stand a little work. Until Cypherus includes digital signatures and improves its interface, PGPfreeware is a better bet.

Like WinZip, Cypherus compresses many files into a single archive. Unlike WinZip, it adds strong encryption. When Cypherus creates a secure archive, you can also set it to "shred" the original files, completely deleting all traces of them from the hard drive.

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Where to Buy

Cypherus 2.0

Part Number: CYP01201
Pricing is currently unavailable.