Encrypted USB flash drives

Encrypted USB flash drives

Summary: I'm finding that I'm carrying more and more of my life on USB flash drives. In 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 but I've been worried about losing a drive with unencrypted data on it. The solution to my problems came in the form of the Kingston DataTraveler Elite Privacy Edition.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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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.

Kingston DataTraveler Elite Privacy EditionThe 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.

Topic: Hardware

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11 comments
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  • Kingston's drive together with Safend's port protection

    combining Kingston's DTE Provacy with Port Protection solution, such as Safend's Protector, make sure that employees can only use encrypted drives, and when they plug in a 20$ drive they purchased at Staples - it just won't work. both these products together offer a real solution.
    dorskuker
  • Nice, but there are issues

    I don't agree with some of your points.

    USB flash drives are very likely do cause data loss because of the issues with unsafe hardware removal. And another problem is that of a very limited number of write cycles. By actively using the flash disk you're actually killing it. That's the reason I got hold of a laptop and now all my data are stored on it.

    The problem you had with laptops can be solved by writing a small script that will upload all the new data to the desktop you have at home, so that if the notebook is lost\stolen\broken, you still have a copy of your data.


    Another thing is that most of the software that is bundled with USB flash drives simply sucks. I know that because I've used several drives that provided a similar application.

    The best way is to get a 'clean' disk without anything bundled with [or in] it, and then choose a real encryption application which meets your requirements.

    Try this one:
    http://www.dekart.com/products/encryption/private_disk/

    Not only that it uses AES-256 (which is by the way, certified by NIST), but it is also designed to work with removable disks. It can also help you extend the life of the flash drive, which is a problem you will have to face sooner or later.
    C_Euler
    • True...True

      "...most of the software that is bundled with USB flash drives simply sucks."

      I have to agree with this point. Personally, every time I get a new USB drive I load it with StompSoft's Portable Vault (http://www.stompsoft.com/portable-vault.html) due to fact that I have had less than great experiences with the preloaded encryption software that comes on a lot of these types of devices.
      dosdragon
  • Great USB article nice storage ideas -give some storage jobs as well

    this is very informative article about encrypting USB since many of us use USB drive now to store our critical data.

    Nice blog post - please post more SAN or storage infrastructure information and all the troubleshooting involved. Its really great to know more about real world san case studies. We look forward for more posts on this blog .

    Nice posts on storage related products & services. Please post more guys we have been reading your posts regularly.

    <a href='http://storage-jobs.blogspot.com'> storage area network information and SAN tutorial or SAN jobs</a>
    roger.s
  • Other Secure USBs: IronKey?

    There are more and more of these devices out there, from a number of vendors like SanDisk, Lexar, etc.

    The one that looks most interesting is the IronKey. It has hardware-based encryption, which makes it much more secure than your average encrypted flash drive, which uses software-based encryption. It also has software on board - like a password manager - and provides secure communications through a secure sessions service. It comes in a cool burnished aluminum package that is supposedly waterproof and can't be physically tampered with.
    aharonofsun
  • RE: Encrypted USB flash drives

    Also make sure to check out TrueCrypt - a really well made Open Source tool you can use to secure your USB flash drives with military strength encryption to protect sensitive data and confidential business information. For more information check out:
    http://www.memotrek.com/blog/security-and-encryption/truecrypt-5.0-secure-your-usb-flash-drives.html
    MemoTrek
    • SanDisk's Cruzer Enterprise worked for me...

      Guys, reading all those so called "legitimate? comments make me think again.
      In my eyes, most of the comments here are the part of the ?Guerrilla marketing? efforts ?hand made? by USB manufactures. I named this comment SanDisk to get some balance :-) so now a bit of Justice had being made?
      peleg72
  • RE: Encrypted USB flash drives

    Truecrypt is the most popular encrypt tool here in the market, but if you want your stick more safe, you can choose this <a href="http://www.data-recovery-utilities.com/usb-encryption/" title="usb encrypiton software">usb encrypiton software</a>.
    it adopts 256 bits AES encryption used by US government, the highest level protection used in Internet communication at present.
    flywind
  • where do you get your USBs?

    I really enjoyed the points that you made. Especially "There seemed to be something so wrong about storing data on something which, if I lost, could give someone else access to my files" Because it is a very true point.

    But I'd like to know where you all get your USBs. I usually purchase mine online at http://www.flashdrives-usb.com/cheap-usb-jump-drives
    But I also like to "shop around"
    brandeemorrey@...
  • CryptOnKey - Hardware Enctyped USB Flash Drive

    It comes with Secure Team Collaboration and Users Don't have to type-in the password all the time. Mitigating the risks of users writing down their passwords on sticky notes and other places.

    http://www.cryptonkey.com
    qachol
  • File Secure Free - Freeware to password lock USB drive and other portable

    I recently found a new freeware called File Secure Free. It is a freeware to password protect USB, it works great. I should say it can even beat some similar paid products. Besides this, it also provides file backup, file encryption and file shredder features.
    http://www.mitracker.com/file-secure-free.html
    John Qin