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Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80 External SSD, hands on: Secure, but sluggish and expensive

It's far from the fastest or most affordable SSD around, but the portable, OS-agnostic Vault Privacy 80 will keep your data safe on the move.
Written by Cliff Joseph, Contributing Writer

Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80

pros and cons

  • Advanced security features
  • Admin and user passwords
  • Multiple password modes
  • OS-independent
  • Expensive
  • Trades performance for security

Kingston's DataTraveler memory sticks are a popular option with many users who require encryption and password protection for important files, but its new IronKey Vault Privacy 80 External SSD (VP80ES) is in a different league altogether. This USB solid-state drive uses hardware-based encryption technology that was originally developed by IronKey specifically for US military and government organisations, before the company was acquired by Kingston in 2016. 

Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80

Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80: An OS-independent hardware-encrypted external SSD (480GB-1.92TB) with a touch-screen interface.

Image: Cliff Joseph / ZDNET

Prices start at $289.99/£275.99 (inc. VAT) for a drive with 480GB of storage capacity, while the 960GB model costs $359.99/£338.39 and the top-end 1.92TB model costs $509.99/£482.39. That's considerably more expensive than a conventional SSD, although the IronKey is FIPS 197-certified, and provides XTS-AES 256-bit hardware encryption using a secure microprocessor that is Common Criteria EAL5+ certified. 

Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80: Touch screen

Numeric PINs or passphrases are entered via the touch screen. After 15 incorrect entries, the drive is wiped (unless the administrator changes this setting).

Images: Cliff Joseph / ZDNET

Some drives that offer encryption require you to create and enter passwords using software that runs on the host PC, but the Vault Privacy 80's security features are entirely hardware based, and are controlled via a small touch-sensitive LCD display that's built into the drive itself. The resistive screen isn't as smoothly responsive as that of a smartphone or tablet, and Kingston recommends using a stylus to tap out your password on-screen, but you can use a finger as long as you're careful about tapping the correct keys. 

The sheer range of security features does mean that getting started can be a little complicated, and the IronKey drive is perhaps best suited to larger organisations with dedicated IT staff who can administer the drives and roll them out to staff.  

SEE: These are the cybersecurity threats of tomorrow that you should be thinking about today

The drive has a standard USB-C interface, and the first time you use the IronKey drive you can simply connect it to a computer -- PC, Mac, Linux or Chrome OS -- using the USB-C or USB-A cables included in the box. The drive will then prompt you to create an admin password. However, administrators or IT staff also have the option of creating an additional user password for a member of staff who is using the drive. Both passwords will unlock the drive, so this allows IT managers to unlock the drive with their admin password if any users forget their own passwords.  

Administrators can also configure a variety of security features, including a choice of two different password modes, using either a numeric PIN, or a 'passphrase', which can be up to 64 characters long. A passphrase can also include spaces, allowing users to select song lyrics or other easily remembered phrases to unlock the drive. However, the drive's firmware is also designed to protect against 'brute force attacks' and will erase the drive if an incorrect PIN or passphrase is entered 15 times (administrators can also modify that figure if required).  

Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80

Your data, encrypted and ready to travel securely.

Image: Cliff Joseph / ZDNET

The one downside to this high level of security is that the IronKey isn't the fastest solid-state drive available. Kingston quotes speeds of 250MB/s for both read and write performance, although our review unit actually recorded read and write speeds of 215MB/s and 200MB/s respectively. That's the sort of performance we might expect from a good hard drive, rather than an SSD, but some organisations may consider that trade-off acceptable in order to protect sensitive files and data.  

Alternatively, if your storage requirements are more modest, then Kingston has also launched a memory stick called the IronKey Vault Privacy 50. Available with storage capacities ranging from 8GB to 256GB with a USB-A interface, the Vault Privacy 50 shares many of the same security features as the SSD unit reviewed here. However, the compact memory stick design means that it doesn't have a touch-screen display, instead relying on on-board software that runs on the host computer to configure security settings. The IronKey Vault Privacy 50 is compatible with Windows 8.1 or later and MacOS 10.14 or later.

Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80 specifications

InterfaceUSB 3.2 Gen 1
Casing material zinc + plastic
Capacities480GB, 960GB, 1920GB
Speedup to 250MB/s read, 250MB/s write
Dimensions122.5mm x 84.2mm x 18.5mm
Operating temperature0°C to 45°C
Storage temperature-20°C to 60°C
USB compatibilityUSB 3.0, USB 3.1, USB 3.2 Gen 1
OS compatibilityOS-independent: Microsoft Windows, MacOS, Linux, Chrome OS or any system that supports a USB mass storage device
Warranty/supportlimited 3-year warranty
In the boxIronKey Vault Privacy 80, Neoprene travel case, USB 3.2 Gen 1 C-to-C cable, USB 3.2 Gen 1 C-to-A cable
Price$289.99/£275.99 (480GB) • $359.99/£338.39 960GB • $509.99/£482.39 (1.92TB)

Alternatives to consider

Here are a couple of security-hardened USB memory sticks: the Apricorn Aegis Secure Key 3NXC is available with capacities ranging from 4GB to 128GB, while the iStorage datAshur BT spans 16GB to 128GB. Both USB sticks are dust and water-resistant – IP68 for the Aegis Secure Key 3NX, IP57 for the datAshur BT.   


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