Review: ArchiCrypt Live 5.0

Currently available for Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista ("for now" per the company), ArchiCrypt Live 5 uses real-time encryption to encrypt and password-protect sensitive data. As is the case with other encryption software we've evaluated in the past, ArchiCrypt allows encryption in various types of data containers.

The first time the software is launched after installation, the user is prompted to create an ArchiCrypt Live Volume. This volume can either be a partition on a drive or a container file within a folder. If a container is selected, the next option is to choose the name and size of the file. The minimum size is 1MB and a FAT32 volume has a 4GB limitation. Default is set to half the available space.

The final step is to select the protection type and encryption method. Protection options include Password, Keyfile, and ArchiCrypt Card (more on that below), while the encryption method can either be AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) or Blowfish. When Password is the selected means of protection, the application monitors the characters as entered, and coaches the user with details on how secure the password is and for how long it should be used.

ArchiCrypt will give you, on the fly, an estimate of how strong a password is and how long it can be used by how complex it is. Weak passwords offer no protection, it tells you, where complex passwords could be good for 40 years or more.

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The container is then created with an .acl extension. Although the creation can take anywhere from a few seconds to upwards of ten minutes, depending on the chosen size of the container, the "time remaining" progress bar is fairly accurate and, after a volume is created, future openings are quick and seamless.

Once a container exists, it can be mounted to a drive letter. From that point, the user can view the contents, and define an "Autorun" which specifies a file or application that is started automatically, as soon as the volume is opened. Other options include deleting an Autorun, closing one or all volumes, and Emergency Stop, which closes the volume regardless of possibly still opened files.

Some of the additional features that ArchiCrypt Live includes are; Secret-Containers, Camouflage-Files, Mobile Data Safes, Public Key and Certificates, Password generation, and the previously mentioned, ArchiCrypt Card SmartCard support.

Secret-containers are basically a box inside a box. They are invisible areas, within an encrypted volume, that need an additional password before they can be seen. This gives the user plausible deniability. If forced to give up the password or key to a volume, the user can then deny the existence of other volumes/keys within it, thereby protecting the data within the secret-container.

Camouflage-files are volumes hidden within a normal, carrier file. A regular user will only see the normal file and its contents. These files can be of any type, including documents, media, and executables. As long as the hidden volume isn't open, the file will look and function exactly as anyone would expect it to.

As the name implies, Mobile Data Safes can be used to transport secret data and then access it on another PC. When using Mobile Data Safes, an executable file is created that contains the encrypted volume, similar to a Camouflage file. When this executable is run on another PC (even one without the encryption software installed), ArchiCrypt Live Mobile opens and gives the option of installing to the PC for other users, or just running as-is. Then the volume is mounted to a drive letter (assuming the correct password/key is given) just as on the originating computer.

Although there are a few other interesting features and options available in ArchiCrypt Live 5, one that stood out to our reviewers was the use of the ArchiCrypt Card. As this program originated in Europe where SmartCards are more widely accepted and used. The ArchiCrypt Card is a specially designed SmartCard that is compatible with all PC/SC readers.

Volumes can be opened automatically once the ArchiCrypt Card is inserted, and closed once the card is removed. Secret keys can be generated right on the ArchiCrypt Card using a real hardware random number generator and the exchange of data between ArchiCrypt Live and the SmartCard reader is encrypted.

In addition, an administrator's "master" PIN can be added to the card, to avoid accidental erasure.

During our testing, ArchiCrypt Live 5 behaved exactly as it was supposed to and was fairly intuitive to use. The included help file was informative and answered any questions that arose regarding functionality and use. We especially like the way SmartCard integration worked and can see it being very useful, especially when multiple people need to access various encrypted volumes.

Another interesting touch is something called "Magic Words." With ArchiCrypt Live 5 running, when a pre-defined Magic Word is typed, regardless of what application is in use, the volume associated to that word will be automatically opened (password, key, or SmartCard PIN is still required). This may not be suitable for highly-classified files, but for regular business info, a carefully chosen word can make access much easier.

The MSRP for a single-user license is $49.95 and the ArchiCrypt Cards are available for $19.95 each. Per a company spokesman, Exklamate/ArchiCrypt is looking for affiliates and qualified resellers to expand their US market. Affiliates typically sell online through their shop and receive a standard commission. Resellers receive a discount, sell the software in their own name and are expected to handle customer support where applicable, with backup support available from the vendor when needed.

In addition, the company will assist partners with the creation of additional marketing materials they may wish to use.