[ISN] Madison, military team up to boost PC security

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue May 14 2002 - 00:25:58 PDT

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    Globe and Mail Update
    Monday, May 13 2002
    Keith McNally says "divine intervention" led his company to team up
    with the Canadian military to build a new computer security device.
    "I would love to say we did it all ourselves, but the [military]
    engineers were the ones who were the key to making this all come
    together," Mr. McNally, president of Madison Systems Inc., said. "It
    really came about a bit by fluke, we were just in the right place at
    the right time while the same idea was turning through everyone's
    Several years ago, the Aurora, Ont.-based company developed the
    Centurion Network Security Switch RJ45/11 to protect network
    connections against hackers. But Mr. McNally, a security buff, had
    bigger plans for the company's next product, the Centurion II.
    He wanted to protect hard drives with a piece of virus- and hack-proof
    hardware so that even if network security was breached, there would be
    no way to steal or alter the files.
    While on a trip to the NORAD military base under Cheyenne Mountain in
    Colorado Springs, Colo., for another project in 1999, Mr. McNally
    happened to bring up his pet project in a conversation with some of
    the engineers and military brass. He was given a contact at Canada's
    Communications Security Establishment, the equivalent of the U.S.  
    National Security Agency.
    "I kept banging on their door and getting put off, but finally they
    gave me an interview. An engineer said I had 15 minutes so I'd better
    make it quick, and when I showed him the diagrams and rough drafts, it
    turned into a three-and-a-half hour meeting," Mr. McNally said.
    The engineer showed him a patented prototype card that worked along
    similar lines to Madison's proposal, a concept device that had been
    developed for the military but never put into production.
    "It was disheartening, because we'd been working on something similar
    for more than a year. I asked if they'd sell the patent and he said
    no, but then he said a partnership of some sort might be possible," he
    The groups negotiated over the course of several months, and a deal
    was hammered out on April 4, 2000. Since then, Madison has been
    tweaking the technology to make it marketable, and tracking down
    hard-to-find components for full-scale manufacturing.
    "The card was so archaic when we first got it, the prototype board was
    about two feet long with wires and things all over it. Now we've
    miniaturized everything into a standard PCI or ISA card to fit any
    PC," Mr. McNally said.
    "Without word of a lie, it was just breadboarded in a single
    logic-type chip design, I've never seen anything like it," said
    software designer James Mitchell, head of Aurora-based Mitchell
    consulting and engineering, who has been helping Madison perfect the
    product. "But Madison took the basic idea and they've completely
    redesigned it."
    The result of Madison's efforts is the Centurion II. The card is
    basically a sophisticated I/O controller that oversees the operation
    of a PC or server's hard drives. It allows a user to set certain read
    and/or write functions in order to enable or disable file access,
    acting like a gatekeeper for the hard drive that is independent of the
    operating system, the company said.
    "The patent is for functions that give the capability to logically
    partition a drive in a way to create read-only access areas," Mr.  
    Mitchell said. "With that advantage, you can secure data, which is
    especially important for machines connected to Internet ... it's a
    physical block between any command or block of data being sent from
    the outside to the hard drive."
    The Centurion II can lock entire IDE drives (a SCSI version is in
    development), or just certain parts areas of the drive on everything
    from PCs to Web servers, the company said. It can give selective
    access to specific directories, sub-directories or individual files.
    "When proper protocols and procedures are followed, the unit is
    dislocated from virae, hackers and overall intrusion or malicious
    code," Mr. McNally said. "The card is independent of everything
    running on the machine. We don't protect the operating system from
    attacks, we protect the hard drive's files themselves, so you can't
    alter them or reformat the drive or anything like that."
    The Canadian Department of National Defence still holds the patent for
    the technology, and Madison has the licence to further develop and
    commercialize it. In return, the DND will get a portion of the net
    income from Centurion II's sales.
    "We have added bells and whistles to give it the versatility that is
    needed for the average user or an administrator," Mr. McNally said.
    This includes password system to let authorized users log on to the
    computer, and a special key that administrators can plug into the card
    (along with a password) to alter its configuration, then remove so
    that nobody can play with the settings.
    "We purposely made it simple to operate so that anyone can use it -
    home users, businesses, government workers, anyone," Mr. Mitchell
    If someone tries to write to the drive, it creates a log file that
    tells where the request came from on the network, and it can be set up
    to notify an administrator by pager or e-mail. If they write to a
    drive that isn't fully locked, the log file tells administrators what
    was written where on the drive so they can go back and remove it if
    "The card locks out outside interaction with the hard drive altogether
    if you choose, and the background software listens to the card to warn
    of illegal access attempts," Mr. Mitchell said.
    The Centurion II will be officially launched at the Canadian
    Information Technology Security Symposium (CITSS) in Ottawa this week,
    and is expected to sell in the $350 range initially. Mr. McNally said
    the goal is to bring the price down to the $200 range when volumes
    Windows 98 and NT software is available for Centurion II now, and
    versions that run with Windows XP and Linux are in development, Mr.  
    Mitchell said.
    The company is negotiating reseller agreements, with a particular
    focus on the government market, but it is also selling the Centurion
    II on its Web site.
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