IronKey rolls out secure online banking USB drive

The drive carries its own browser than can be configured to only browse certain Web sites

IronKey rolled out its Trusted Access for Banking USB drive on Monday.

The drive is designed to thwart attempts by hackers to steal money from online bank accounts by providing a self-contained secure environment for online financial transactions that avoids malware that may already be on a computer.

IronKey Trusted Access for Banking is based on the IronKey, a ruggedized flash storage drive that uses 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) hardware encryption that meets the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2, a U.S. government standard for the protection of sensitive information.

While online banking is convenient for customers and cheaper than face-to-face transactions for banks, those Web applications have come under increasing attacks from sophisticated malicious software programs.

The problem has become so severe that the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), which oversees the ACH (Automated Clearing House) system for money transfers, recommends that a dedicated machine be used solely for financial transactions.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) said last fall that ACH-related fraud was racking up to as much as $1.5 million [m] in losses per week.

The main two attacks are keylogging, or programs that record all keystrokes, and man-in-the-middle attacks, a more advanced attack that can even intercept one-time passcodes, said Dave Tripier , IronKey's chief marketing officer.

IronKey's device is essentially a virtual machine that runs its own pre-installed software on the device. IronKey has customized a browser based on Mozilla's Firefox product that can be configured to only visit certain Web sites.

That's important since people's computers can become infected by visiting Web sites rigged with malware that exploit software vulnerabilities. A bank that buys the IronKey for its customers could configure the device to only visit its own Web sites.

"The user is dictated to in terms of what they can do and how they can do it," said Kapil Raina , senior product manager for IronKey.

Trusted Access for Banking also prevents someone from going to a phishing Web site, which is designed to look like a legitimate site but isn't. IronKey also runs it own secure DNS (domain name system) services, which traffic from the USB drive is routed through in a sort of VPN (virtual private network) wrapper, Tripier said. That wrapper also prevents interference from any malware already on the person's computer, ensuring traffic isn't tampered with.

The software on the IronKey is non-writable, meaning that the device itself cannot be infected with malware. The device also ships with antivirus software from McAfee, which can be used to scan a user's computer and also give banks an insight into what kind of malware their customers may be infected with.

IronKey plans to sell the device to banks, which would then deploy it to their customers. The company also has a partnership with RSA. Trusted Access for Banking supports RSA's SecurID two-factor authentication software.

The device itself costs about $250, considerably more than the secure tokens deployed by some banks that assign users a one-time passcode for transactions, which range from $30 to $70. But hackers have been able to intercept those codes using man-in-the-middle attacks, which have made those systems less effective.

Trusted Access for Banking is a "lot more, although as far as the token goes, it's ineffective," Tripier said. He said a few U.S. banks have already committed to deploying Trusted Access for Banking drives.

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