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IBM adds new levels of security

Big Blue is brushing up on encryption and security, offering customers better PC log-on protection with features such as fingerprint matching.

IBM is brushing up its computer security system to further protect its customers' data.

The company on Tuesday said it will add a handful of new features to the software behind its Embedded Security System--a bundle of hardware and applications installed on most IBM PCs and used to encrypt files and passwords.

PC security has long been a selling point for IBM in wooing corporate customers. Last year, for instance, IBM added a feature on select notebooks and desktops that allowed customers to keep a mirror image of their applications and data below a partition in the hard drive. With the duplicate data, consumers can more easily repair damages from computer viruses. The company, the fourth-largest PC seller in the world, according to IDC, can use the security package to set itself apart from competitors that do not offer similar products.

IBM's security update will offer several new methods of logging on to a PC or computer network, including support of a fingerprint reader and proximity badge.

The fingerprint reader stores an image of a person's fingerprint and requires a matching print before providing access to the machine. The proximity badge, developed by Ensure Technology, will help prevent access to data while an employee is away from a PC. The device uses a radio frequency identification tag placed inside an ID badge to alert the PC when its user has moved beyond a certain distance. The PC reacts by logging the user off, and then logging the user back on when he or she returns to the PC.

IBM will sell the fingerprint reader and proximity badge on its Web site starting in March. The reader will cost $199; pricing for the badge has not been announced.

The update also adjusts the software's file and folder encryption features. IBM folder files will become encrypted or decrypted automatically when a person moves them into or out of a folder. In past versions, individual files had to be hand-selected for encryption or decryption.

"The top thing people asked us for was (improved) file and folder encryption," said Clain Anderson, security program director for IBM's Personal Computer Division. "We've smoothed that out."

IBM began building the Embedded Security Subsystem into its PCs last year. The company offered a similar security feature on earlier PCs, dating back to 1999.

The company's PC division on March 5 will ship the new security software in new ThinkPad notebooks and NetVista desktop PCs. Customers who already own IBM computers will be able to download an update from IBM's Web site, a representative said.

IBM installs the Security Subsystem on all of its ThinkPads and NetVistas, with the exception of its NetVista A-series.