Comdex speakers on the defensive

TORONTO — Computer Associates International Inc. touted multi-level security, Palm Inc. talked up the improved security in its new operating system, and Telus Corp. simply pitched the security of its own future.

Of the three keynote speeches at day one of Comdex Canada 2002, the address from Telus CEO Darren Entwistle stood apart as he eschewed the traditional focus on products and trends in favour of a company cheerleading session. Entwistle gave his presentation, which featured screenings of employee endorsements and Telus television advertisements, after two weeks of pumping the company to financial analysts in major Canadian cities amid union strife and more recently, a downgrade of Telus’ debt rating.

During Wednesday’s address, Entwistle attributed the drop in the company’s stock price, down two-thirds from Sept. 2000 levels, to Telus’ high debt and low operational efficiency levels and the general telecom industry malaise, highlighted by massive accounting irregularities at WorldCom Inc.

“I can’t do much about the general telecom market and some of the shenanigans therein,” he said. “We continue to believe that wireless solutions and technology have a bright future.”

Entwistle said the company has embarked on a new operating and capital efficiency program, with gains to come from improved employee productivity. Alluding to the company’s early retirement and voluntary departure programs — a point of contention with officials representing union workers — Entwistle said employees can be further engaged despite cuts to staff.

“At Telus we stand together as a team, we work together as a team and we (realize) success as a team,” he said. But in a refrain that was repeated in a variety of forms throughout the speech, Entwistle added, “Everything we are doing will mean nothing if not ultimately reflected for shareholders.”

Absent from Entwistle’s address was substantial discussion about the state of the telecom industry, plans for the company’s network or expanded services, or even the launch of the company’s first full-colour, Java-enabled phone in the exhibit hall.

Computer Associates co-founder and executive vice-president Russell Artzt used his time at the podium to discuss CA’s security software offerings for access, identity, and threat management. The latter of the three addresses the change in vulnerability when customers and partners are given access to a company’s systems, he said. CA’s e-Trust Access Control is designed to allow a company to control who gets access to which systems and applications, and when they can get that access.

“At a resource level, we can secure you,” Artzt said. “You can get into the house — maybe. But once you’re in the house doesn’t mean you can get into every room.”

Artzt said CA in September will launch an identity management tool which the company currently uses internally to manage each employee with one unique identifier across all company systems.

The company also plans to unveil eTrust 20/20. The application will aim to tie virtual security and authentication to physical security and authentication, for example, putting network access data on employee badges. “In the future, I can see a lot more of the physical and IT coming together in terms of securing people in an organization,” Artzt said.

Artzt’s focus on security came the same day news broke of a CA lawsuit launched against Quest Software Inc. and four former CA employees. The suit claims the employees and Quest stole software code the employees developed while working for a company that CA later bought.

“It’s not the first time we’ve been in a legal battle over source code; it’s big problem,” said Simon Perry, CA’s vice-president of security systems. “You have to be able to track and control where people go.”

Artzt said this has become paramount in an increasingly open environment that includes customers, clients and partners, and tempts would-be hackers.

Palm Solutions Group president and COO Todd Bradley echoed the theme during his afternoon keynote. “As we become more untethered, security will become more important for everyone,” he said.

Bradley talked of a bright future for the mobile enterprises as longer-lasting batteries, improved displays and faster processors and mobile networks increasingly boost the appeal of handheld devices. However, increased proliferation of wireless computing and wireless networks means increased exposure of sensitive corporate data.

“They (wireless networks) can be broken into very easily, by hackers driving by a building,” Artzt said. “This is a serious new phenomenon and it’s become a part of our everyday environment.”

Bradley said Palm’s upcoming OS5 will include increased embedded encryption and noted third-party developers will also make available VPN-type applications for the new OS.

“Demand is clearly coming from customers,” he said. “Having a secure device, how to deal with loss, theft. Kind of a combination of security and support.”

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