USB wireless and security adapters

ZyAir 802.11g wireless USB adapter (ZyAir G-220)

From Zyxel, about $100.

ZyAir 802.11g wireless USB adapterWhat it does: This small device, about the size of a stick of gum, gives 802.11g wireless LAN connectivity to any USB-enabled computer (Windows 98 or above) that does not have a built-in wireless LAN connection (aka older computers). In addition, the device can act as a wireless LAN access point for notebooks that already have an Internet connection.

Why it's cool: The access-point ability of the adapter is what intrigued us, as we've tried several USB wireless adapters. Basically, if your computer already has a wired Internet connection but you want to share that connection with other devices, this adapter can act as a wireless bridge for the other devices. This could be useful in situations such as visiting a hotel room where there's one cable but several notebooks need to use the Internet.

It's a good idea in theory, but in practice we found it somewhat difficult to set up. The client utility does a valiant effort trying to make this easy, but several pesky networking needs get in the way. In order to bridge the connection, we had to discover the IP address of the wired connection, then assign a static IP address to the wireless LAN connection and make sure that the IP address was on the same subnet, and that the same gateway was indicated. After this, we had to assign a static IP address to any client that wanted to use the wireless LAN connection (we tried to get our DHCP server to do it but it never reacted).

Even then, on our first attempt, the bridge didn't work. We were asked to download a new driver for Windows 2000 support, but the link we were given didn't work.

So as a basic wireless LAN adapter, the device works fine. But the access-point ability of the adapter needs some software improvements.

Grade:      (out of five)

More info from the vendor

Fireball KeyPoint, from RedCannon

About $150 (for 256M bytes; $300 for 512M bytes).

Fireball KeyPointWhat it does: The Fireball KeyPoint is a USB flash device that lets mobile workers get their work done securely when on the road and accessing unsecure systems, such as Internet kiosks, or machines not managed by their IT departments. Applications on the KeyPoint include a spyware scanner, a secure Web browser, private file storage vault (with 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard encryption), and a secure e-mail client.

Upon connecting the KeyPoint device to a computer with an open USB port, the KeyPoint spyware scanner checks the system for any key loggers, Trojans, spyware, adware or other suspicious programs. If it finds something, it alerts a user to the relative threat. It doesn't delete these programs, but leaves the decision up to the user about whether to continue.

The secure browser opens up a Web browser that stores cookies and Web browsing history on the KeyPoint device instead of the local computer; the e-mail client lets you access e-mail accounts without opening up Outlook or anything on the device. The Vault application lets you bring your data with you on the road, encrypting the files as well.

Why it's cool: As more opportunities come up for mobile workers to access corporate networks without actually having to carry a laptop, so will the opportunities for people to take advantage of that access. Internet kiosks and other computers being made convenient for workers are great, but Web browsing and e-mail checking have a way of leaving leftover data that the bad guys can exploit. The KeyPoint device solves these issues, and can help ease IT fears about having unprotected data being in the mobile computing wilderness.

Our only qualms were that the Web browser and e-mail client were pretty basic. The browser had no pop-up blocker, and the e-mail client didn't have anti-spam features, so mobile workers who have those applications on their laptops might be turned off by having to use the KeyPoint versions.

But the spyware scanner and Vault application are great, and can actually be helpful to bring along with a laptop to keep the road warriors safe.

Grade:    

More info from the vendor.

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