Encryption, arguably, is the mainstay of information protection. We would be hard-pressed to find many product categories in the security space that did not have some encryption component associated with them. Whether it is raw encryption – file and folder or whole disk, for example – or some form of public key infrastructure (PKI), encryption makes the information-protection world go round.
Also, it is pretty hard to find anything new under the encryption sun. But, we’ve done that this year. Again, as with many of our Innovators, it is not so much what they’ve done that impresses, but how they’ve done it.
Addressing a problem that we all know about, but don’t think about – the complexity of encryption from the perspective of the end-user – poses a problem that may be greater than those posed by the mechanics of encryption. This year’s Innovator focused on solving a problem with a technology that people actually can use. The company got there first and it never looked back.
Many of us can remember when Phil Zimmerman introduced the early versions of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP). Great stuff, to be sure, but like many products of the time, PGP required a proficiency with the command line, and it came from a *nix world – not the average user’s bailiwick. I recall many years ago, telling a client that he needed to employ encryption for sensitive emails. What did I suggest? PGP, of course. My client just laughed and asked me who I thought would be able to use the product? He got me there. Once you leave the IT shop, users who could make it work were few and far between. However, times have changed. Today, encryption is commonplace, and this year’s Innovator played a significant role in achieving that status. Happily, it still is innovating and bringing encryption ever more into the mainstream for users who need to employ their computers, not tinker with them to make them work.
And, while encryption is about mathematics and technology, our Innovator believes that it also should be usable by the broadest possible audience.
SecureDoc Full-Disk Encryption from WinMagic
It all started in 1997. A little start-up named WinMagic, based in Mississauga, Ontario, entered the encryption arena with a whole-disk encryption product. But, it was not just any full disk encryption product. The company was, in fact, the first full disk encryption (FDE) provider to introduce true key management by using a key-labeling design. Not satisfied with that, WinMagic introduced the client design using [cryptographic token interface standard] PKCS#11 from the ground up. The following year, it became the first FDE provider to introduce encryption for floppy, ZIP drives and USBs. And since those years, this Innovator never has looked back.
Over the years, it has introduced secret-level encryption for the U.S. government by means of hardware encryption via the Fortezza card, provided FDE for the U.S. National Security Agency, and received the first-ever NIST certification for advanced encryption standard (AES), among many other accomplishments.
WinMagic’s PBConnex is based on the premise that typical encryption technology is too complicated and disruptive. It should, in fact, behave as if it were not encrypted. That calls for an emphasis on ease of use, as well as effective protection. Encryption done wrong can cause too many disruptions, and that is a weakness that needs to be overcome.
Further, response to customer needs, including customization, brings value to the customer. That is something we almost never hear. The idea of customization strikes terror in the hearts of companies in the production software business. However, this Innovator uses requests for customization from customers as a way to introduce general improvements into the product.
From a marketing perspective, WinMagic forms strategic relationships within specific geographic regions, watches industry trends carefully, and develops partnerships with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] that are pre-loading WinMagic products. It’s a good strategy and one we’ve heard before, but in the hands of WinMagic, it does seem to work quite well.
AT A GLANCE
Flagship product: SecureDoc Full-Disk Encryption
Cost: $99 per license (100+)
Innovation: Very creative application of encryption technologies in full-disk encryption applications.
Greatest strength: Creativity and imagination coupled with the follow-through to bring those traits to market.