I'm finding that I'm carrying more and more of my life on USB flash drives. There seemed to be something so wrong about storing data on something which, if I lost, could give someone else access to my filesIn fact, I go as far as to try to keep all my current "digital self" on flash drives - email, contacts, current/ongoing work, passwords, useful utilities and anything else that I might need. It's actually quite scary being able to put all of my digital self (at least all the current, important parts) onto a gigabyte or two, but I get over this by acknowledging that a lot of the work I do (writing, blogging, programming and so on) doesn't actually take up much drive space.
I've learned my lesson over the years that storing my stuff on my notebook just didn't work out for me. Remembering to copy stuff back and forth seems great in principal but in practice it doesn't happen. It only took not having the right file with me once or twice to make me realize that the system wasn't a productive one (I'm a fast learner!).
So instead of storing my data on my notebook, I store it on a USB flash drive. If I don't have my notebook with me then I'm probably going to be able to beg or borrow a PC somewhere. I can keep the USB drive on my desk during the day and back up stuff to it as I feel the need or before going out.
The only issue that I had with USB drives was data security. There seemed to be something so wrong about storing data on something which, if I lost, could give someone else access to my files. I'm sometimes prone to bouts of carelessness and forgetfulness. Giving me something not much bigger than an AA battery and asking me to take care of it long-term presents me with a huge challenge. If kept permanently in the office it might have a reasonable chance of not getting lost or misplaced, but make me carry that object around with me and its chances of remaining in my possession are dramatically reduced.
Knowing my carelessness, I plan for the worst. Most USB flash drives (at least the ones from the major players in the game) have come with software that allows you to encrypt your data and control access to it with a password. That solution is OK but it does mean a lot of added work. I could have chosen to encrypt the whole drive using PGP. That has a lot of advantages over the basic encryption tools that come with USB drives but that means that every PC where I use my key will need to have PGP installed, so that's not workable.
Some things that I have on the drive are automatically protected. For example, I use PasswordSafe to store all my passwords and I sync my Outlook data and files using a nifty program that I found called Dmailer (a program that I like so much that I bought a lifetime license for it) which takes my email, contacts, calendar and appointments, along with my browser favorites and selected files, and stores them in an AES 128-bit database. Dmailer works great for Outlook data but having to mark files so that they are put into the database is not so straight-forward.
The solution to my problems came in the form of the Kingston DataTraveler Elite Privacy Edition. This is a variation on a standard USB flash drive because it encrypts all the user data using 128-bit AES. Any access to the drive requires a password to be entered. Put the wrong password in 25 times and the drive locks down (permanently) so it also provides robust protection against brute-force attacks.
Kingston were kind enough to send me a sample of the 2GB version and I've been using it for a few weeks now and it has simplified my workflow dramatically (if you're interested in how it works, check out this post I made on PC Doctor). I have to remember one password to gain access to the drive and after that the encryption is transparent. No messing about with encrypt/decrypt tools and no risk that I forget to encrypt something as it's all done on-the-fly.
The drive is no slouch when it comes to speed either - I've measured read speeds of 24MB/s and write speeds of 14MB/s, in line with what Kingston say.
There's no doubt that the DataTraveler Elite Privacy Edition is aimed at the enterprise market but given the sensitive information that people now routinely store on their USB flash drives I certainly think it could offer significant benefits for consumer users too. Yes, the drives are more expensive than your cheap bargain-bucket USB flash drives, but it is a robust, well thought-out bit of kit. It certainly makes me feel better knowing that my data is safely encrypted on the flash drive - if I lose it now (not that I'm planning on losing it mind you) then I've lost the drive but my data is still safe.