I wrote previously about how unprotected USB flash drives or portable hard disk drives (HDD) could lead to data loss if they were misplaced or stolen. Though free software encryption offerings exist, they can be unintuitive and offer users the option to skip the data encryption process when rushing for time.
This means that businesses serious about data protection will want to use storage devices with built-in hardware encryption, which unfortunately is still not commonly found on shop shelves in Singapore. As such, my interest was piqued when a unit of the Apricorn Aegis PadLock 3.0 with 256-bit AES encryption crossed my desk.
Assembled by Apricorn at its facilities in the United States, the Aegis PadLock comes with a software-free design. What that means is that data is automatically encrypted as it is copied onto the Aegis PadLock without having to install any software utilities. A number pad with rubberized buttons fronts the slightly bulky device for authentication that is independent of one's operating system.
Using it was a no-brainer that involves plugging it into a free USB port using the attached cable. When the sole LED indicator blinks red to indicate that the device is powered on, key in the PIN code (up to 10 digits) and click on the "Unlock" key. If the PIN is correct, the LED light will flash briefly before turning a solid green--my Windows laptop reports a new USB drive being plugged in at this stage. Unplugging it or clicking on the "Cancel" button immediately locks the drive up.
In my tests, I attempted to key in the wrong password repeatedly. The device stopped accepting my input after a few wrong entries, forcing me to unplug and reconnect the device to continue trying. Note that repeated mistakes will lock up the device, culminating in the permanent loss of onboard data when the decryption key stored in the Aegis PadLock is erased.
Personally, I didn't like the complicated button combinations needed when attempting to change the password, or when resetting the device back to factory default. The indicator light certainly helped, though you will need to have the instruction manual open in order to configure it. Of course, configuring the password should be a one-time process for most users, and is probably a tolerable hassle for the peace of mind.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, storage devices with built-in hardware encryption do cost more. In this case, the Aegis Padlock 3.0 with its fast USB 3.0 interface and 256-bit AES encryption costs US$179 for a 250GB model, going up to US$289 for 1.5TB.