Kingston DataTraveler BlackBox

  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent


  • FIPS 140-2 Level 2 certified
  • 256-bit hardware-based AES encryption
  • Enforced complex password protection
  • Device lockdown
  • Waterproof
  • Titanium-coated stainless steel casing for added data protection


  • No support for 64-bit Vista, Mac OS or Linux
  • Expensive if you need lots of storage space

Many computer users, especially those who travel for business, rely on notebooks and handhelds because they are small and portable. Unfortunately, these devices — and the data stored on them — are easily lost or stolen. In fact, the data is often more valuable than the portable device itself. We've all read about lost or stolen notebooks containing confidential or sensitive information. Even if your portable device doesn't contain any customer data, think of the other information that could be at risk: passwords, emails, contacts and so on.

More and more people are transporting sensitive data on USB flash drives, which are even more portable and even more easily lost or stolen than a notebook or a handheld. So how can these be secured? You can't prevent a USB stick going missing, but you can make sure that the information contained on the drive remains safe from prying eyes.

Kingston's DataTraveler BlackBox is a rugged and waterproof USB flash drive with a titanium-coated stainless steel casing. It's easy to set up and use, and is backed by an impressive 5-year warranty with 24/7 technical support. Although it's a little bulkier than your average USB stick, measuring 78mm by 22mm by 12mm, the DataTraveler BlackBox is a FIPS 140-2 Level 2-validated drive aimed at those for whom confidentiality is paramount, such as government, law or finance.

Available in capacities ranging from 2GB (£60) up to 8GB (£140), the DataTraveler BlackBox meets all US federal requirements established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Gaining FIPS 140-2 Level 2 certification requires a validation process that meets federal requirements set by NIST and the Communications Security Establishment of the Government of Canada. This accreditation is also important to European governments and corporations, as FIPS is recognised worldwide.

FIPS is a set of standards that describes document processing, and provides standard algorithms for searching plus other information processing standards for security modules used to protect government networks. FIPS 140-2 validation is a requirement for any cryptographic product that will be used in a US government agency network. The standard requires the DataTraveler BlackBox to run a power-on self test to verify that the encryption architecture is functioning each time it's plugged into a USB port; it must also feature a tamper-proof seal. Beyond NIST certification, the drive features 256-bit AES encryption for all stored data.

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Although there's plenty of complexity under the surface, Kingston has done a great job of hiding this from the user. The drive is easy to set up and use, thanks to the fact that no admin rights or driver/application installation is required. All you have to worry about is not physically losing the drive. It's compatible with several versions of Windows: Vista (32-bit only), Windows 2000 (SP3, SP4) and Windows XP (SP1, SP2); sadly, Mac and Linux users are not catered for.

A neat feature is that the DataTraveler BlackBox automatically locks down and reformats after a specified number of consecutive failed password attempts. So if the drive is lost or stolen, at least your data won't remain in the public domain forever. Users are also forced to set a password with a minimum level of complexity to prevent unauthorised access. The downside is that the DataTraveler BlackBox isn't particularly fast: the drive reads data at 24MB/s and writes up to 20MB/s. However, what it lacks in speed it certainly makes up for in data protection. And speed isn't really an issue unless you transfer lots of files continually throughout the day.

As workforces become increasingly mobile, the need to lock down information in transit becomes ever greater. Managing your notebook or handheld is one area of security, but flash drives, as we have recently seen, are all too often overlooked. There are cheaper flash drives that come with security tools, and you can download software applications to add password protection to non-secure drives. However, none offer the complete security package of the DataTraveler BlackBox. It even sports a tamper-evident coating/seal for physical security and can be branded with your company logo. If data security is paramount, the DataTraveler BlackBox is the USB flash drive of choice.