Future of the notebook

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Smart cards that hold passwords and encryption keys, used with personal identification numbers, will provide another level of authentication beyond simple keyed-in passwords, says Dell's Zucker. Further out, he says, portables will be fitted with biometric devices such as fingerprint or retina readers.

Such devices are already appearing. Trekstor USA Inc. in San Ramon, Calif., recently introduced the ThumbDrive Touch, a tiny data storage device based on flash memory technology that incorporates a fingerprint-recognition security system.

Ingenious new security hardware is on the horizon. At the University of Michigan, researchers are perfecting the Zero-Interaction Authentication device. It's a tiny token kept in the user's pocket -- or maybe worn as jewelry -- that continually authenticates the user by sending radio messages to his mobile PC. If the token becomes separated from the PC by more than a few feet, in seconds the PC locks all its files in an encrypted state.

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