On The Stick

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A three-inch encryption device is the key to secure e-mail-and potentially loan document file-sharing-at $22 million Austin Federal Credit Union.

Austin FCU's board of directors last month started exchanging encrypted e-mail messages-containing sensitive, internal files such as Profit and Loss Statements and delinquent account reports- using 32-megabyte CryptoSticks, according to Byron Warren, member and treasurer of the CU's board of directors. CryptoStick is provided by Cary, N.C.-based Research Triangle Software, an electronic commerce products company. Members and CU management may begin using the devices by April, he added.

Trading Information

"The sticks allow us to trade information that will help us make informed decisions and improve business with our members," Warren explained.

Secure file-sharing will also allow board members to review and discuss financial reports before meetings, he said. In fact, Warren believes that the ability to exchange and discuss sensitive data on a daily basis could in turn boost Austin FCU's profit line by up to 10%.

Previously, members of the board avoided exchanging business-related emails or files for fear that e-mail system administrators might intercept the data, explained Warren. The CU's "very conservative, but high-technology" board is dispersed around the Austin metropolitan area, he said.

After CryptoStick is plugged into any computer's USB port, a single dialog box prompts the user to compress and encrypt messages and files. Files can then be read or downloaded instantaneously by recognized recipients using CryptoStick.

Users can increase the number of files stored on Cryptostick, as the device software compresses data by as much as one-third.

Each device is also password-protected to verify a user's identity.

CryptoStick may also help strengthen Austin FCU's relationship with long-distance loan applicants, said Warren.

Members holding CryptoSticks will receive encrypted documents, such as credit reports and lines of credit, throughout the home equity or consumer loan process without making trips to the CU's only branch.

At loan closing, members will return the device to Austin Federal Credit Union and receive a credit on the loan account, he said.

Back-Up Storage

Beyond secured messaging and file sharing, Warren said that the one- to five-gigabyte CryptoSticks could come in handy as back-up storage devices.

In addition, employees could store applications or systems on the devices and use them to work at remote locations.

The 6,000-member CU purchased 15, 32-megabyte CryptoSticks for about $600, said Warren.

Available in 16-megabyte to 1-gigabyte storage capacities, Cryptostick is a USB Flash Memory device containing software that secures messages via public-key encryption algorithms. The device fits on a key chain and can also be used for private Internet browsing as it stores tracking files from a computer hard drive.

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