Transferring sensitive data from user to user or company to company can be difficult when there's no secure data-transfer solution in place. Even more difficult is restricting who can open the files once they have left your control. Data protection packages can be very expensive and don't always provide the protections required, which is why many small and midsize businesses haven't implemented a way to secure data and control who accesses it.
Egress Software Technologies' flagship product, Switch, strives to solve these problems in a lightweight manner at price individuals and small and midsize businesses can afford. Switch allows individuals to create secure packages containing files that can be transferred to online or offline recipients.
No doubt this sounds like many other secure data-exchange products on the market, such as PGP, Pkware, and Bcrypt, but Switch has a twist. It controls access to the secure packages through Egress' servers, making Switch a software-as-a-service offering.
Installation is straightforward. First, you must create an account, which is done through the downloaded client. Using your account's e-mail address, the service grants access rights and associates packages. Next, you can choose to install the browser plug-in or the full Switch client. The browser plug-in allows users to open secure packages, but they cannot create them; the full client allows creation and opening of secure packages.
Switch runs on Windows XP, Vista, or Server 2003 and customers' machines must have Microsoft .Net 2.0 Service Pack 1 installed. Although this Windows-only approach isn't unique to Egress' service, it does mean non-Windows businesses will have to seek an alternate route to secure exchanges.
In tests, after we downloaded the full client and entered our account information, we were up and running. The entire process took only a few minutes and was pretty easy. However, because there is no Mac or Linux client, we had to run Switch on a virtual machine running Windows.
Once files are defined, the user clicks the Create Package button and is asked what type of package to create. Users can select e-mail attachment, if a supported e-mail client is installed; a standalone encrypted file; CD/DVD with encrypted data; or a regular CD/DVD. The difference between an e-mail attachment and a standalone file is simply that Switch attaches the file to an e-mail for the user, which saves some time.
Once we selected the type of package to create, the necessary steps are performed and we have our new access-controlled, encrypted package. All packages use a unique Advanced Encryption Standard 256 key, and information about the package, and your account, is transmitted via Secure Sockets Layer between the Switch client and Switch servers.
At the other end of the trail, opening secure packages requires:
Double click the package, enter your account information, and once authenticated, the files can be accessed inside the encrypted package. Once a secure package is opened, the access is logged on the Egress servers for review later. This feature alone could provide value to an organization's compliance program since it tracks access to sensitive data no matter where or when it is accessed.
Unfortunately, like other secure packaging and file encryption tools, once a package has been opened, there's no way to track where the files go or who accesses them.
A single-user version of Switch is free, but does not allow the user to share packages with other users and does not provide tracking of package accesses. The free version might be a good choice for users who need to create secure packages for one-time usage or storage and have no other encryption system.
Organizations will have to weigh Switch's monthly fee scheme against the one-time payment for options such as PGP or even the widely deployed WinZip, which is not marketed as a security product but can achieve similar results. Both PGP and WinZip also use AES-256 for encryption, although neither tracks or restricts who can access the package if the user has the password or encryption keys.
Clearly, Switch's biggest benefits are the ability to track who has accessed the secure package and to restrict access to a predefined, or later modified, list of users, as well as the ability to remove access without redistributing the secure package.
Because Switch focuses on a different problem than traditional security tools such as PGP, we believe it has a place as an added level of security in the toolsets of many IT departments.
Adam Ely is senior manager of technology at a Fortune 100 company and a frequent contributor to InformationWeek.