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Security system is eye-opener

IBM and GE create software linking buildings, computers

IBM security specialist Cindy Dalton tests a retina-scanning system in Washington, D.C., that will help companies safeguard their complexes and employees.
IBM security specialist Cindy Dalton tests a retina-scanning system in Washington, D.C., that will help companies safeguard their complexes and employees.
Bob Goldberg, Associated Press

NEW YORK — Companies will be able to tighten their security by linking their computer networks with their building monitoring systems as part of a new service coming from IBM Corp. and General Electric Co.

The service, which IBM and GE plan to announce today and begin selling this fall, would let companies impose security measures that might seem like common sense but are hard or even impossible if computer networks and physical monitoring systems are separate.

By connecting those systems, a computer network could know that once an employee had gone home for the day — because, say, he swiped a badge past an electronic reader that let him into the parking garage — no one should use his name and password to log on to a computer in the building.

Or once another employee arrived in the morning, the network would know not to grant access to someone trying to log in from her home computer.

Similarly, an office security system could refuse to let an employee into one building if the computer network registered that she was using her computer in another building at the moment.

IBM and GE believe their service will help companies better guard against theft of passwords and electronic ID badges and prevent unauthorized access by employees.

"It gives both systems visibility of what's going on in the other world," said Ray Blair, a vice president for business development for IBM Global Services. "That would alert you to infractions you wouldn't see before."

The service will combine IBM's computer network management technology with security equipment and software made by GE's Interlogix subsidiary. The companies will share revenue generated by the project.

Bruce Schneier, founder of Counterpane Internet Security Inc. and author of "Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World," said some companies probably have jury-rigged their own combinations of online and physical security systems. But he said he was unaware of anyone making a linked network commercially available on a widespread basis.

Schneier strongly praised the idea, saying the service would be especially useful in investigations of malicious company insiders. He noted, however, that it might be too expensive for all but the most security-conscious companies, like banks and brokerages.