Just as we carry keys to open doors and cars will we have to carry electronic keys to access computers? Sandisk's new TrustedSignins product looks like an ordinary USB thumb drive but it combines a 32-bit controller with an embedded cryptographic engine to provide real-time encryption and tamper-resistant security so as to keep stored data safe.

Sandisk claims that it provides secure protection against online fraud because it uses dual-factor authentication. This is the combination of something you know, such as a password or user name, with something you have, such as this TrustedSignins USB flash drive or a mobile card with the same technology.

Ron LaPedis, Sandisk's product marketing manager, said: "TrustedSignins technology will be available to financial and other institutions for pilot programs before becoming a standard feature on select SanDisk USB flash drives in 2007." The software is stored and launched directly from the USB flash drive and requires no installation on a host computer. To that extent it is quite consumer-friendly.

RSA, now EMC's security division, and Verisign are each working with SanDisk such that these devices could be used at RSA SecurID-enabled or VeriSign-enabled websites. In addition to entering a user name and password, when a consumer connects a TrustedSignins flash drive to a PC, a one-time password (OTP) can be generated and supplied to a website for an extra level of security. The one-time password can be routed seamlessly to an identity protection network for validation, allowing the user to access multiple accounts such as those from a bank, auction house or brokerage.

Are we gradually moving to a position where we will all carry the equivalent of electronic keys to authenticate who we are on computers? The idea is becoming more prominent - Techworld has recently reviewed an Addonics Flash and Smart Card encrypting device which requires users to hold an electronic key.

While suppliers like Addonics, Sandisk, RSA and Verisign no doubt would be pleased if we did move to an electronic key-carrying world it would be necessary to have a universal key. Otherwise we will suffer electric key bloat just like we endure password bloat currently. At the last count I had over 30 electronic passwords. How many do you have?

On the other hand I do carry a front door key, back door key, garage door key, car key, second car key...