PC Magazine Reviews SecretAgent 3.14

PC Magazine

This excerpt originally appeared in the article "Psst, Keep a Secret" in the December 1996 issue of PC Magazine. Please note that it is a somewhat dated review of SecretAgent 3, and that SecretAgent 5 has increased security, support for X.509 version 3 certificates and standard private key files, and faster performance.

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Cryptography

AT&T Business Communications Services
SecretAgent®

By Jay Munro

At $180, SecretAgent is the highest priced of the programs in this roundup. But it's well worth the price, because you get an industrial-strength, mail-enabled, encryption program that provides a wide variety of approaches to PC security.

In SecretAgent's main dialog box, you select the files you want to encrypt from a directory and file list. Files can be selected from multiple directories, but once encrypted they are saved to a single directory. SecretAgent offers four standard encryption protocols, any of which should be sufficient for most work; the company's Web site provides a list of options.

For key generation, SecretAgent allows you to set a user ID and password of up to 40 characters each. Keys are stored in proprietary .PKF files, which can be merged, edited, or deleted using the program's Key Manager.

You can select either 512- or 1,024-bit keys. The program's RSA-based public-key implementation is a two-step process. The message is encrypted with a random DES (data encryption standard) key and then encoded with the RSA public key. On the receiving end, the recipient first decodes the RSA with a private key; the recovered DES key is then used to decode the actual message.

You can e-mail coded messages automatically via VIM- or MAPI-compliant clients. If you use Microsoft Word for Windows or WordPerfect, you can import macros to enable secure file handling within those programs. SecretAgent runs under Macintosh and Unix as well as Windows 3.x, but there's no native Windows 95 version. SecretAgent can compress source files before encryption both to reduce file size and augment security; options include LZSS and RLE compression software.

SecretAgent provides plenty of context-sensitive online help, and the program's documentation--available online and in book form--includes details on how the program's algorithms work; this level of detail may confuse nontechnical users.

In terms of performance, SecretAgent was at or near the bottom of our list of four programs, but the program's slowness is balanced by its exceptional e-mail security, local- data-protection features, and support for a wide range of encryption standards.

SecretAgent
List price: $180. Requires: 1MB RAM, 1MB hard disk space, Microsoft Windows 3.x; AT&T Business Communications Services Greensboro, NC; 800-203-5563, 847-405-0390.