An Illinois firm is offering a personal-computer-based security system for data that can be accessed by telephone.

Developed by Horizon Technologies, Aurora, Ill., the system, called Dataguard, prevents users from accessing computer programs until their identities have been confirmed.

Dataguard also protects banks from "hackers" and other computer intruders.

Although it is hard to measure the extent of computer crime because much of it goes unreported, experts estimate that the cost could be anywhere from $3 billion to $100 billion a year worldwide.

An early version of Dataguard was developed with Hartford-based Connecticut National Bank, which was recently acquired by Shawmut National Corp.

Originally on a Mainframe

Connecticut National has had the first version of Dataguard up and running since 1987. The bank's system was designed to run on its IBM host computer, whereas the new version runs on a single PC.

Dataguard offers a bank's security operation a variety of identity authentication methods.

One is a "callback" feature that tells Dataguard to hang up and call the user at a predetermined telephone number.

The bank can also restrict each user to a specific time period. Each unit can be configured for up to 100 users.

An Electronic Key

To create the highest level of security, Dataguard also provides banks with a feature called a "pocket key," which is about the size of a cigarette lighter.

When a banker using a PC dials up the mainframe and types in his or her personal identification number, the screen presents a series of flashing characters.

The user then holds up the key to read the electronic pulse generated off the screen by the characters. The key in turn displays a series of letters and numbers that the user must then type in.

These characters represent a one-time access code that confirms the user's identity.

Like a Remote Control

"The pocket key device is able to read the screen by utilizing technology similar what's used in television remote controls - only it reverses the process," said James P. Hertrich, an executive at Horizon Technologies.

According to Cindy Abbott, assistant vice president in the information security management group at Connecticut National, the bank typically give the pocket keys to employees who provide after-hours computer support services.

"Systems programmers and data processing people sometimes have to deal with an emergency or get on the system at night," she said.

"They can dial up from wherever they are and deal with the situation at hand. The pocket key is convenient for them and provides the bank with the highest security."

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