7 secure USB drives

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Playback of the video file took six seconds when launched from my hard drive -- the unencrypted E drive -- and seven seconds when launched from the vault.

The JumpDrive Secure II Plus comes in 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB versions and is compatible with Windows XP and Vista.

Pricing for the Lexar JumpDrive Secure II Plus on PriceGrabber ranged from $15.48 for a 1GB model to $72.06 for an 8GB model .

So-so performance and overly complicated processes don't make me jump for (storage) joy with the Lexar JumpDrive. -- Rich Ericson

7. The SanDisk Cruzer Professional

SanDisk's Cruzer Professional has what appear to be some highly secure features and a simple-to-use format. As do many products in its class, the Cruzer Professional uses a 256-bit AES, hardware-based encoding. The encryption algorithm uses the Electronic CodeBook (ECB) mode (which security expert Bruce Schneier says is not as secure as the Cipher Block Chaining (CBC) mode). The National Security Agency has approved the 256-bit AES algorithm for top-secret use (CBC or ECB) -- so it's better than an old cigar box sealed with blue masking tape, provided you actually use it.

The Cruzer Professional sports a conventional design -- very professional looking with dark gray colors and a sleek case that feels like it has a bit of a sprayed rubber coating. There's even a pocket clip to remind you that it shouldn't be left unattended on a car seat or desk.

Security features

SanDisk also sells a Cruzer Enterprise model. Both models offer password protection and hardware based, 256-bit AES encryption. The main difference is that the Professional model lets you create Privacy Zones, which allow 1% to 100% of the drive's total capacity to be password-protected. Any area outside the Privacy Zone is unprotected and open to any user. The Enterprise model requires the entire drive to be password-protected for corporate security purposes.

Also, the Enterprise model ( see picture ) can be deployed to employees across a company and centrally managed through SanDisk's Central Management and Control (CMC) server software. Cruzer Enterprise CMC supports password recovery and renewal through the network, remote termination of lost drives, central backup and restore, as well as central usage tracking and auditing.

The Cruzer Professional's Privacy Zone is explained in a 16-page electronic user manual that walks you through the steps of setting it up. The user interface for that operation is part graphical and part text-driven, and takes only a few minutes at the most. There's no suggestion of a long and complex password, but do keep in mind that the better a password you create (a longer mixture of alphabetic and numeric characters combined with symbols), the more difficult it will be for someone to guess it. It allows up to 21 characters.

Once you're done, unless you enter your password by clicking on the icon found when you open the flash drive, the only indication that your Privacy Zone exists is that the overall capacity of the Cruzer Pro will appear smaller -- by the same amount as the zone you've created. Otherwise, whatever you've tucked into the zone is out of sight, and logging out of the zone closes it. All of this occurs on the flash drive. No trace is left on your computer or any computer you use to initiate access.

Speed, pricing and the bottom line

While SanDisk touts the Cruzer Professional as having an "ultrafast transfer speed," Hd Tach test results were not quite as enthusiastic. The average read speed was 13.4MB/sec., or roughly half of what some flash drives are capable of. Ad hoc testing with music and video files showed no degradation during playback, though.

The Cruzer Pro is available in 1GB, 2GB and 4GB versions, and is Vista ReadyBoost qualified -- although that would negate its use as a secure vault for your transportable data. ReadyBoost is supposed to allow you to add memory to a system through the flash drive in order to improve performance. Computerworld, however, saw little benefit from its use (see " Vista's ReadyBoost flash drives lack significant boost "). The Cruzer Pro is also compatible with Windows 2000 (SP4), XP, and 2003 Server

The pricing for a Cruzer Professional on PriceGrabber is anywhere from $42 for a 1GB model to $108 for a 4GB model .

While the Cruzer Professional doesn't offer the same level of security as some other flash drives (or its own Enterprise version), it provides at least a reasonable amount of data safety for the business professional. --Bill O'Brien

Winners and runners-up

Each of the drives we reviewed has its strong and weak points. For example, Corsair's Survivor is, arguably, very secure -- but the password rules are challenging to follow. The Lexar JumpDrive Secure II offers three ways to protect data, but two of its methods were so awkward that the reviewer found them to be being more trouble than they were worth.

Although the Corsair Padlock is relatively slow, and certainly not the most secure of the bunch (because its security is based on hardware), its cross-platform capability can make a big difference if you're moving files among Windows, Linux, and Mac computers. We've run into problems with secure flash drives cooperating only among Windows machines, so if we needed cross-platform support, we'd have to lean toward the Padlock (and maybe bring along a second skinny vanilla latte to sip on while the files are being transferred).

The IronKey, while toward the high-end of the price ranges, is built like a fortress and its read/write speeds are superior to the others we tested. By comparison, the Corsair Survivor's performance numbers come close to IronKey's, and, along with the SanDisk Cruzer, it uses the least CPU cycles.

When it comes to practical tests, such as saving files to the drive, the Kingston was 2.5 times as fast as the Lexar -- and that, along with a simpler interface, can often be what truly matters.

Overall, however, the IronKey's numerous security features -- hardware-based encrytion, random password generator, two-factor authentication, secure Web browsing, and self-destruct mechanism -- along with its longer-life, single-level cell NAND memory, put it over the top as the highest quality, most secure drive of the bunch.

This story, "7 secure USB drives" was originally published by Computerworld.


Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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