Even though it seems like they’ve been around forever USB flash drives are a very recent addition to the gadget portfolio of any self-respecting IT or gadget geek out there. Typical of what happens with electronic products over times the amount of storage has multiplied, the drives have gotten smaller and more features have been added with each passing generation of flash drive development.
One of the biggest advantages a flash drive has is its size but in the same breath this is also its greatest Achilles Heel – the smaller something is then generally the easier it is to steal it. When you combine this with the fact that the earliest flash drives had no form of encryption on them or any way of protecting the data other than putting a password on the file (all you need is 5-minutes to remove that) it meant that a lot of sensitive data was being put at risk on a daily basis.
So something had to change and a lot of companies spotted this particular flaw in flash drives and started working to provide solutions. The first of these were encryption programs designed to provide at least some level of data protection. There are several open source data encryption programs available for USB hard drives and they do work well but because they’re only software based solutions an experienced data thief will eventually get past the cipher – either by luck or brute force.
So what was needed was a combination of physical security, hardware encryption and a physical level of protection too – just to ensure that if your encrypted flash drive does get stolen it’s of absolutely no use to the criminal. Two companies in particular rose to the challenge and released products designed to deal with this problem. Corsair has a long history of manufacturing USB flash drives and lots of other memory products so need no introduction. The other company, Apricorn, are probably less well known to you but do offer some very advanced hardware encrypted memory sticks.
So let’s take a look at the offerings from these companies:
Corsair Padlock 2 16GB (CMFPLA16GB)
As you can see from the external case of the Corsair Padlock 2 it has a physical keypad on the drive which allows you to set a 4- 10 digit PIN to access the drive. The beauty of the keypad means there’s no software to be installed so you have a physical barrier to theft straight away.
Another major advantage of having this type of hardware protection is that it removes all those drive incompatibility issues that plague most USB flash drive users – it will work on a PC but not a Mac or vice versa.
So what security features does this drive have?
- Keypad locks the drive with a 4-10 digit pin
- If the pin is entered incorrectly 5 times the drive locks for 120-seconds
- The Corsair Padlock uses 256-bit AES encryption (military level)
- You can factory reset the PIN and erase all the data on the drive at the same time
- Tough, rubberized casing that Corsair Voyager drives are famous for
On top of that you also have 16GB of storage space which should be more than enough for the vast majority of people needing to store data. Of course having more storage space is always better but if needs be you can always buy more than one of these secure flash drives.
Apricorn Aegis 16GB Secure Key
Unlike Corsair Apricorn are probably not a name that rings a bell the first time you hear them mentioned and definitely not in relation to USB flash drives, although some of you might know Apricorn from their Padlock range of external hard drives– they use the same basic principles as their Aegis Secure key range of drives.
Apricorn were one of the first companies to enter the third party memory module market so actually have a lot in common with Corsair but where they’re different is that they decided to focus their attention on hardware encrypted drives when everyone else was messing around with software encryption.
The Aegis Secure Keys also have features you’d expect to find on an encrypted flash drive but they take this to a whole new level with some features other companies either didn’t consider or just weren’t willing to take the risk on.
Ok so the security features on this hardware encrypted flash drive are:
- Physical 10-button keypad for creating your own PIN for creating 7-15 digit PIN numbers
- 256-bit AES CBC hardware encryption – you’re talking trillions of possible combinations
- The drive locks itself after it’s removed from a USB port
- No driver software required so compatible with pretty much any device with a USB port – compatible with PC, Mac or Linux boxes
- The drive erases itself after the PIN has been entered incorrectly 10 times
- Internally the drive is coated with an epoxy resin to prevent anyone tampering with the memory chips
- Tough aluminum, water-proof casing
When it comes to finding encrypted flash drives the Aegis Secure Key flash drives are about as good as they get but you’re paying a higher price for these advanced features. The idea of having a flash drive that securely erases all the data on it if it’s tampered with is something that will appeal to an awful lot of business and IT people.
Which of these encrypted memory sticks is best? It’s going to be down to what you can afford and what features you need folks.
In terms of features, performance and security the Aegis 16GB Secure Key wins hands-down – absolutely no contest.
In terms of offering a high level of security on a budget the Corsair Padlock 2 is a great option for most home users.