Corrections or additions?
These articles by Peter J. Mladineo and Barbara Fox were published
in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 10, 1998. All rights reserved.
Batten Down the Laptops?
Up until a year ago Andy Goren, a 28-year-old software
developer and entrepreneur, seemed to have a clear path ahead for
his startup company, TV Objects: the development of a software program
called Applet Designer that enables users of Visual Basic to create
highpowered Java "applets" — the new Internet programming
standard. And Goren’s company was substantially bolstered by an
of venture capital by another 28-year-old, David Plimpton of Plimpton
& Yang, the venture capital firm at 34 Chambers Street.
But now TV Objects has taken a U-turn. The software product is being
sold, the sales force has been downsized, and the company is setting
its sights on a piece of hardware — a new laptop security device,
called LapJack, now being developed and marketed by a subsidiary of
TV Objects at 600 Alexander Road, LapJack Systems
But, says Goren, the shake-up is a carefully calculated move. Goren
says that the probable buyer of Applet Designer is Halcyon Software,
a San Francisco Bay-area firm that makes Unix-based applet designers
(TV Objects’ product is for Windows-based machines). "Together
we own the whole market," says Goren.
And, he adds, the laptop security device has the imprimatur of
Yang, the company that originally funded Goren’s software. Still,
the question persists: How could Goren turn his back so quickly on
a software idea that seemed so promising? He has a one-word answer:
Goren maintains that just about any software application has only
a couple of years of potential profit before Microsoft gets involved.
Then, says Goren, it’s only a matter of time before the Redmond,
software giant starts bundling it free in one of its packages.
"One of the reasons we’re in the hardware business is we want
to stay away from Microsoft," Goren says. "You can dream up
the best idea that ever exists in the world and start coding it. Bill
Gates gets wind of it and he’ll just announce that he’s doing it and
you’re out of business. You can’t do that with hardware because of
the patent on it. There are no patents in the software industry."
With a pending patent, Goren is entering a totally new universe —
and a totally new kind of paranoia — with LapJack. LapJack is
a new encoded security key that plugs into a parallel printer port
on a laptop computer. If a machine is enabled with LapJack it cannot
boot up without the key. It’s similar in principle to a stereo with
a removable face. A thief may successfully steal the laptop, but
the key the laptop is completely useless.
Goren and crew have set out to close off all of the possible loopholes
around this system and he insists that the product has not yet been
hacked. It can’t be compromised by booting from a floppy. And once
the LapJack software is deployed on a laptop, that computer’s hard
drive can’t be used in another computer, nor can the hard drive’s
data be reformatted. LapJack puts no demand on the processor or
doesn’t corrupt data, and doesn’t use passwords. Laptops armed with
LapJack will also come with a sticker with the company’s logo, similar
to the Intel Inside sticker, informing thieves that this laptop won’t
boot up if burgled.
If you lose the key, the LapJack system can be uninstalled by typing
in a long serial number available from a secure LapJack-controlled
site. "For big MIS departments," Goren says, "we’re going
to provide an intranet application that stores serial numbers for
all the keys on a database so you can do a remote recovery of the
computer. That’s the most common question we ever get."
Goren maintains that LapJack is the first device of its kind on the
market. But does the market need it? Many laptops already come with
password-protected theft systems. IBM Thinkpads, for example, are
shipped with a hard disk password capability that requires the laptop
owner to remember the password forever. If the laptop owner forgets
the password or if someone else attempts to use the computer, the
manual says, not even an IBM-authorized reseller can help restore
the hard drive. (Goren responds that most users never activate the
password and that these software-based solutions can also be
compromised by removing the laptop’s battery.)
How unique is LapJack? It might have some close cousins, but probably
has no exact matches. "There has been some activity to produce
a device like that but it has fallen off in the past few years,"
says Richard Woodbridge, a patent attorney at 22 Chambers Street.
A brief Web-based search reveals a few clunky alternatives (including
an impenetrable laptop case), but nothing that involves a hardware
security that authorizes access to a laptop’s hard drive.
Woodbridge cautions entrepreneurs from assuming that
a unique idea will ultimately ensure a product’s success. "I’ve
seen a lot of great ideas do poorly and a lot of average ideas do
really well," he says. "The high-tech business is very
The success rate isn’t very high, but the few who do succeed usually
do very well." Woodbridge challenges Goren’s fear of Microsoft.
"Companies with small niche products tend not to be victims of
Microsoft," he says. "More often than not it’s the small
that seeks out Microsoft and not the other way around."
The leap from developing software to creating hardware that protects
software has cost TV Objects between $700,000 and $1 million so far
(the patent application alone cost $40,000). This kind of spending
is within the realm of possibilities for Goren, thanks to the
of Plimpton (U.S. 1, November 7). Plimpton was traveling in Japan
and unavailable for interviews.
Then there was all sorts of new endeavors for the company — like
manufacturing leather and plastics. "All these things take a lot
of time and a lot of money," says Goren. "There’s just so
many components to hardware. It’s not like you just make a disk. To
make your own plastic mold is not simple."
Goren set up a partnership with a Philadelphia-based manufacturing
plant owned by Hugo Pena, whose business he hopes LapJack will
absorb. Goren predicts that the firm will also open a manufacturing
facility in Mexico.
Goren and Stephen E. Johnson, the firm’s 24-year-old communications
manager, are learning that marketing hardware might also be more fun
that marketing software. First, they are targeting original equipment
manufacturers (OEMs) to sell laptops equipped with LapJack. They
one such deal with Twin Heads, the New Jersey-based manufacturer of
Hewlett Packard and AST laptops. They are also close to cutting deals
with Toshiba and Sharp in Japan, through a global business consulting
firm called Japan Trade, which built Lotus’ operation in Japan. Goren
predicts these deals could be completed within a few months.
But Goren doesn’t want to rest the company’s chances on OEMs alone.
Borrowing the state-by-state saturation strategy that Snapple used
to become a household name, sales teams will hit laptop-intensive
areas in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania metropolitan regions.
They will hand out fliers at airports and train stations, such as
the PATH station beneath the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan,
where laptops are as common as cell phones. "We think that’s where
we need to sell the product," says Goren. "It’s a product
for end users."
One possible source of end-users is Steve Sashihara, CEO of Princeton
Consultants, a firm that supplies all of its 45 consultants with
"The notion of a competitor stealing someone’s laptop is
says Sashihara. "There are a lot of companies that are putting
substantial amounts of confidential information on their laptops.
The machine-supplied protection on laptops is pretty bogus and I think
this product would be useful to a lot of companies." Sashihara
adds that he will consider equipping his laptops with LapJack.
Sashihara also points out one future roadblock for LapJack: While
Windows 95 and 98 are relatively unsecured, Windows NT already has
a built-in security feature for hard drives using its NT file system
(NTFS). This, Sashihara suggests, might not bode well for LapJack’s
future prospects. "On the corporate side, everybody knows you’re
supposed to be using NT," he says. "Three years from now,
laptop operating systems will all be NTFS."
But Goren disagrees: Even NT can be penetrated. "NTSF has much
more security into it, but you can create an emergency recovery disk
and then you can boot up to that partition and get into that
says Goren. "Hackers can get into anything really."
— Peter J. Mladineo
08540. Andy Goren, president and CEO. 609-514-0300; fax, 609-514-1004.
Home page: http://www.lapjack.com
08540. Andy Goren, president and CEO. 609-514-1444; fax, 609-514-1004.
Home page: http://www.tvobjects.com.
Spies who snitch notebook computers may steal valuable
corporate secrets, says Sanjay Kalra, but those who surreptitiously
retrieve marketing data also can retrieve incredibly valuable loot.
Kalra founded his firm Icons Inc. last year, and — with 7 to 10
consultants, all certified information system security professionals
(CISSPs), he is expanding at Research Park.
The loot to which Kalra refers is marketing information. His firm
did one recent security assessment for a package delivery firm.
wanted a third party assessment of how good a job they did of securing
their data, their customer’s data, and the package data."
"The same company wouldn’t have thought about this five years
back," says Kalra, who just turned 30. So much has changed, he
emphasizes, even from three years ago, when "intranet" was
just a buzzword.
"Now everybody wants to connect with their business partner.
wants to have remote access to put in time sheets, expense reports,
or meeting minutes. We are moving away from the private networks,
and everyone is jumping on the Internet. The need for data security
has changed. The nature of `private’ versus `open to everyone’ is
Born in New Delhi but schooled in this country, Kalra was a math and
computer science major at the City University of New York, Class of
1992. He did network management for Conde Nast, J.P. Morgan, and
Trust, before opening his firm last year to do information systems
security: risk management, security architecture development, security
audits, and security staff development.
Because many companies do protect their intranets, notebook computers
are an attractive target. Their passwords, Kalra says, have been found
to be 80 percent crackable. Spies target specific senior managers,
finance officers, and marketing directors "more than you and I
want to admit," he warns. "If you try to go after the same
data in the company’s network, it is not as easy as walking away with
"The data you carry on your computer is very important for most
corporations," he says, "but the extent to which security
is taken is not extreme."
Kalra, president. 609-924-2900; fax, 609-924-5544. Home page:
— Barbara Fox
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.