Netbook users worried about storing sensitive data on their portables are being offered the world's first whole-disk encryption that will run useably on Intel's Atom processor.

According to UK distributor, Security IP, C4KNetbook from Spanish company Secuware has been written from the ground up to enable transparent hard disk encryption on a class of processor not normally thought to be capable of handling its demands.

Despite its single core, low clock speeds, and more limited instruction pipelining, the Atom chip does have some hidden features that belie its image as a basic part. On more recent versions of the Atom this will include hyperthreading, a feature missing on many apparently more powerful Intel chips.

On C4KNetbook, a particular emphasis was given to processor I/O, which is where encryption places most of its demands on whole-disk systems. Security IP claims this optimisation means that the machine will perform as it would without encryption installed, keeping overhead to low levels.

The software is also FIPS 140-2 certified software, offers pre-boot authentication using digital certificates, smart cards or USB tokens, or simply using a conventional password.

If the product makes business use of netbooks viable from a security standpoint, is this a problem that businesses really care about in the first place?

According to Security IP, the case for netbook computers in business is really about replacing conventional laptops. In many cases, laptops are overkill to run email and perhaps a single business application, and the netbook is a cheaper alternative if the security can be put in place.

Public sector organisations, in particular, rate encryption with FIPS-140-2 compliance as being important before a netbook can even be contemplated, and this software could overcome that final obstacle.

The C4KNetbook software does have some limitations. It only runs on Atom-based systems (no other families such as Via's C7 are supported as being ‘optimised') and also only works on the 32-bit versions of Windows so Linux-based netbooks are out.

Secuwave's C4K costs £45 (approx $70) per system on a one-off basis, or lower with volume pricing.