Celluloid heroes mirror IT's dilemmas

Investigative agents, nuclear warfare, identity authentication and plans by rogue terrorists to detonate bombs were all RSA Security senior VP Scott Schnell wanted to talk about during a visit to Australia this week.

As a security provider for US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, RSA security is well positioned to discuss such "top secret" matters, both real world and Hollywood-style where the company acted as adviser on spy flick, The Sum of All Fears to be released in Australia later this year.

Schnell said identity authentication technologies CIA agents used in the film to access major computer networks are actually used in the real US intelligent agencies, but admitted real-world agents aren't as attractive as their on-screen counterparts Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman.

However, they do have to overcome on-screen security issues that apply to IT managers each day in the enterprise.

While some IT managers may not be actively involved in determining the future of the free world or fighting evil terrorists, they do have to safeguard their organisations and protect access to information. Not every IT manager will be engaging in interesting liaisons on the Orient Express or undertaking feverish negotiations in the Oval Office, as the film depicts, but end user authentication could prove critical.

Technology used in the movie, Secure ID, is a token with a small screen able to generate a new password every minute that is linked to a server. The password can never be predicted.

"In the real world most people cannot remember more than one or two passwords so this technology is ideal; it is the most widely used system in the world and we have been in discussions with Australian banks assessing tokens for their retail customers," Schnell said.

Accompanying the token is a personal identification number and Schnell admits terrorists could steal the token and torture the user until the PIN is revealed, but added, "I cannot talk about the plot of the movie, though it is a threat some organisations may face." IT managers be prepared.

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