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Originally published Monday, February 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Small office / Home office

Clever service has key to e-mail security

How can you be sure your e-mails are safe from prying eyes? To most of us e-mailing mom or even sending work-related e-mails, security really...

Knight Ridder Newspapers

How can you be sure your e-mails are safe from prying eyes? To most of us e-mailing mom or even sending work-related e-mails, security really isn't of great concern.

But for people to whom security is of great importance, sending sensitive documents over the Internet carries an extremely high degree of risk.

That's primarily because one of the Internet's strongest points happens to also be one of its greatest weaknesses: Access to the Internet is available to everyone.

There are two big problems with sending encrypted e-mails to someone.

The first is getting the decryption key or password safely to the recipient. The other is making sure that the recipient has the decryption software to unscramble what you sent to them.

While the first problem can be dealt with by agreeing on the key ahead of the time, telling it to them face to face, calling them, sending it in the mail or getting it to them in a zillion other ways, it is the second problem that we're going to deal with here.

If you find yourself needing to send encrypted e-mails to a large or even open-ended number of people, it would be an almost impossible task and very expensive sending each and every one of them a copy of the decryption software.

Firetrust Encrypt solves this dilemma in a novel way by using the ubiquitous browser, the application that's most widely used to access the Internet. Here's how it works.

Using the Firetrust Encrypt application, you first encrypt any kind of file or document. Encrypt scrambles the data using a 256-bit AES encryption standard and places it within a standard HTML document that is then attached to an ordinary piece of e-mail.

Any ordinary Web browser will be able to open the attached HTML file. You then e-mail it to the person for whom it's intended.

That person does not need any special software. All he or she needs is the ability to receive the e-mail. After getting the e-mail, the recipient opens the attached document through a browser.

The browser next displays a small screen that says the document is ready to be opened and prompts the recipient to enter the agreed-upon password. At that point, the browser connects to the Firetrust server at a remote location, retrieves the decryption algorithm and completes the decryption process. The completed documents contained in the attachment are now placed on the recipient's desktop for immediate viewing.

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Since the decryption process is done entirely by Firetrust's remote server, the process will work on any recipient's type of computer with online access be it a Windows, Macintosh or Linux-based system, and even works behind a firewall.

So basically, Firetrust Encrypt encrypts and delivers documents of any format for easy decryption using customer-administered passwords.

No key management system is required.

And while the Encrypt application itself is at this time available only for a Windows PC, it's nice to know that at least anyone with an Internet connection will be able to decrypt what you are sending them.

This makes the Firetrust Encrypt system one of the more versatile and openly universal methods of sending encrypted files around.

Firetrust Encrypt (www.firetrust.com) sells for $29.95.

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