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PC World

Navaho Lock keeps snoops at bay with unbreakable code

April 30, 1999
Web posted at: 5:39 p.m. EDT (2139 GMT)

by John Goddard

(IDG) -- Encryption smacks of espionage classics for most of us: spy versus spy working to crack a secret code while the fate of the world hangs in the balance. But today, electronic access has brought spying up close and too personal for many of us. With e-mail eavesdroppers, unscrupulous hackers, and out-and-out thieves scouring the Internet, intranets, and firewalls for security breaches, you never know who could be getting a line on anything from your new pet project to your credit card number. (See the PC World special issue, "Privacy in the Internet Age," link below)

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This is where encryption comes in. You can thwart the snoops -- while keeping sensitive communications flowing -- by scrambling your documents with industrial-strength encryption. Your messages will be gibberish to everyone except your key holder.

While the U.S. Congress debates whether to relax or restrict the export of 56-bit or greater encryption technology, a new $39.95 program lets Canadian and U.S. residents employ up to 168-bit encryption to scramble confidential files and memos. Named in honor of World War II's Navajo-language code talkers, CyPost's Navaho Lock promises to stop snoops before they even get started.

Fortunately, you won't have to learn a whole new language to benefit from Navaho Lock's encryption. To test this program's ease of use, I installed the 4.3MB Navaho Lock Personal Edition 2.3 on my Pentium II PC. The program's security features, slipstream integration with e-mail, and no-sweat interface have made it, after a few weeks of use, an essential addition to my business software lineup.

For Navajo Lock to work, you must have a valid POP or MAPI e-mail account accessible via Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape Messenger, Eudora, or Claris Emailer. Although Navajo Lock doesn't support Hotmail or Yahoo e-mail, you can save encrypted files locally and attach them to Hotmail or Yahoo messages.

By default, Navaho Lock provides 40-bit encryption using Windows 9x's built-in Cryptographic Service Provider -- enough to dissuade the typical amateur code-cracker. To protect against professional snoops, Canadian and U.S. residents can download a free Enhanced CSP upgrade (a 256KB file called 402comupd.exe) from Microsoft's Web site. This can boost Navaho Lock's encryption power to 168 bits -- a level that has yet to be cracked.

A look at the Lock

I felt right at home using Navaho Lock. Despite the rather unattractive buttons under the menu bar, the five resizable windows felt familiar. Three of these windows incorporate Explorer-like functions -- one showed my folders, another my files, and a third (dubbed the Drop Area) listed details about every file I dragged in. Navajo Lock uses the Drop Area to combine multiple files into compressed and encrypted packages. A fourth window sports tabs for accessing options on and information about each encrypted package. The fifth window is a venue for writing e-mail messages and modifying text using standard type options.

Navaho Lock relies heavily on its own encrypted address books; unfortunately, it doesn't use Microsoft Office's addresses. In addition to contact information, you can designate a specific password and encryption strength for each entry in the address books. The recipient will be prompted to type in that same password to decrypt the files you send. When you and the recipient think it is time to change the password, simply include the new password in an encrypted communication. The only trick is starting the ball rolling by conveying the initial password -- you'll probably want to do this in person or over a secure phone line.

Easy encryption

Because it is so easy to use, Navaho Lock quickly became my front-end means of sending and saving confidential information. For example, a friend recently offered to help me with my taxes, so I sent him my updated financial data, encrypted with Navaho Lock. I also sent some digital snapshots of my new home and a draft of a script I'm working on -- things I'd be reluctant to send unscrambled.

The process worked like this: I logged on to Navaho Lock, composed a message, then dragged the files I wanted to encrypt and compress into the Drop Area. To check the package's file size and estimated download time, I clicked on the Get Info tab. When I pressed Send (you can also press Save), up popped my address book. I highlighted my friend's name, typed in a password (which we had agreed on previously), and designated the encryption strength. Like other programs, Navajo Lock gave me the options of saving a copy for myself and distributing the e-mail to others with the same or individual passwords. When I clicked OK, the files were compressed by as much as 70 percent and sent through my e-mail program.

When my friend opened the e-mail, a message informed him that the attachment was encrypted with Navaho Lock, and a link was provided for downloading the free 900KB viewer from CyPost's Web site.

All told, Navaho Lock provides a great defense against information burglars. If you want to keep sensitive documents under wraps, try out the trial version at CyPost's site (link below).

Encryption 101

Using encryption software is akin to having a steel door installed, with bits in place of bolts. The more bit strength you have, the more complex your password key can be -- and the more impenetrable your documents are to potential intruders.

For example, 56-bit encryption uses a 56-bit key, which allows 72 quadrillion possible combinations. Still, a high-speed application using a computer array designed specifically for code cracking can break a 56-bit encryption code in minutes. But 128-bit encryptions are 4.7 sextillion times more difficult to crack.

If you find those numbers hard to decipher, consider this estimate referenced on CyPost's Web site: If the 260 million PCs in the world today were put to work on a 128-bit encrypted message, it would take them roughly 12 million times the age of the universe to break the code. Now that's a tough code.

Opinion: Technology is increasing privacy, not threatening it
March 8, 1999
Anonymity guaranteed on the Internet
April 27, 1999
Professor, ACLU appeal free speech ruling on software code
March 5, 1999

Privacy in the Internet Age
(PC World Online)
v-GO: One password fits all
(PC World Online)
New freeware encryption posted as alternative to PGP
Net groups slam encryption changes
(The Industry Standard)
McCain proposes loosening crypto restrictions
FAQ: Changes in U.S. encryption policy
New battle lines being drawn over encryption debate
(FCW)'s Year 2000 World

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