Every time we read an article or hear a rumor about a major corporation or government agency being hacked by cyberthieves, the more paranoid we become. Fortunately there are ways we can protect our data from these hackers and feel a bit more confident that our documents and other information aren't being stolen.
One of the areas most often ignored is information and other data stored on USB flash drives. Many of us just pop one of these small drives into an available USB port on our computers and transfer what we want to take with us without a thought as to what would happen if the drive was lost or stolen.
Fortunately there are a few flash drive manufacturers that thought about that for us and have provided us with safer, more secure ways of transporting our files.
We recently tested four of these drives: one from Apricorn, two from Kanguru and one from Kingston Technology.
Basically, they all offer the same protection. All of them provide military-grade 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) XTS hardware protection, which makes your files unreadable to anyone not authorized to access them. They are all USB 3.0 drives, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0. but four times slower than the USB 3.1 standard that is waiting in the wings. And they all need passwords or key codes to make the data readable.
But that's where the similarity ends.
The Apricorn Aegis Secure Key USB 3.0 Flash Drive ($199 - $369, depending on capacity) was, for us at least, the toughest drive to hack.
When you first unpack the drive, you notice a ten-digit keypad on top of the device. This is the first layer of protection and requires entry of an 7-to-16 digit passcode before the drive can be used. The code is entered before the drive is inserted in the USB port on your computer or other device. Also, if someone enters the wrong code 20 times, all the data is destroyed and your code is deleted. The drive also locks automatically if left unattended for a long time.
Another key feature is FIPS 140-2 Level 3 validation security, which is the U.S. government standard for protecting sensitive data. According to Apricorn, "The FIPS 140-2 validation covers 11 areas of the cryptographic key management and design integrity." This covers the drive's tamper resistance and its identity-based protection.
This advanced layer of protection is also available on two of the other drives we tested.
The Apricorn drives are available with storage capacities ranging from 30 to 240 gigabytes, which is a a lot more than the other drives, which have maximum capacities of 64 GB and 128 GB.
The Kingston DataTraveler 4000 G2 flash drive ($63 - $337) has all of the basic features of the Apricorn drive, except for the alpha-numeric keypad. These include 256-bit AES XTS hardware encryption and FIPS 140-2 Level 3 certification.
The big difference here is how data is accessed. The DataTraveler uses enforced password protection to access the drive. All data is erased and the drive locks after 10 unsuccessful log-in attempts. Also, files can be accessed in read-only mode to prevent tampering and malware infections.
You can also customize the drive by changing the number of log-in attempts and the maximum password length.
The Kingston drives are available in capacities ranging from 4 GB to 64 GB.
The folks at Kanguru Solutions sent us two drives to test: a Defender Elite 30 ($44.95 - $249.95) and a Defender 2000 ($69.95 - $549.95).
The two drives are basically the same, but the one major difference is that the Defender 2000 offers FIPS 140-2 Level 3 protection and the Defender Elite 30 does not. Also, the Defender Elite 30 has a physical write-protect switch, which can protect your data from malware by making it read-only.
Both offer 256-bit AES XT encryption and both are accessed using a secure sign-on and password.
Now we come to a couple of features neither of the competitors offer: All of the Kanguru drives come with the option to register and access your drives remotely via the Cloud and offer antivirus protection for an extra fee after a short trial period.
The basic KRMC Cloud remote management service is available for $14.95 per year per device and allows you to delete everything from your flash drive remotely if it's lost or stolen. The caveat here is that it can only be registered to one user. An upgrade to Cloud Pro enables you to allow access by an unlimited number of users for $399.95 plus $14.95 per year for each registered device. I would recommend this for medium-to-large businesses.
Both of these services can be used to set up passwords and sign-ons for each device, limit the number of invalid logon attempts and access data on any registered drive. You can also generate user reports for each drive.
The antivirus is available on a subscription basis for $7.95 for one year or $11.95 for two years.
The Defender Elite 30 is available in capacities ranging from 8 GB to 128 GB and the Defender 2000 ranges from 4 GB to 128 GB (in a larger housing).