So your pocket decided to empty its self on the way to work. What was in there? A wallet, a set of keys, a memory stick? Ten years ago the worst case scenario would be that your wallet would be found with the cash removed and your car 5 minutes down the road in a ditch.
Bad enough you say, but in this digital age there's much more at stake. Lets say for one minute that your USB stick had personal files on it that could reveal information about you including your address, family members or other personal details. This is more than enough information for someone to start thinking about stealing your identity. Or how about if you use your USB stick for portable applications such as Firefox? Did you use it to access your bank account, your email account or social networking sites. Did you tick that 'Remember Password' box? Now you're in a serious situation.
But its not only your personal data that's at risk. How about that presentation or proposal you've been working on for your employer? Or maybe that spreadsheet of employee details. A password set on the file isn't going to stop a determined hacker from getting at the information. You need encryption.
The most common method of encrypting storage is by means of a software based application that installed on the host machine. In the case of portable drives, the software encrypts the drive and copies the necessary applications to the drive so that it can be accessed from any machine providing that you have the correct password or certificate key.
This method has its downfalls though, most prominent being that the applications placed on the drive to decrypt it may not work on systems such as Mac OS X or Linux. Additionally the whole process can be quite confusing to users who maybe aren't so tech savvy and "just want to get at their data".
Enter the Corsair Flash Padlock 2. Successor to the original Flash Padlock drive (which wasn't very secure at all), the Flash Padlock 2 builds on the predecessors basic keycode access idea by adding a strong 256Bit AES encryption mechanism. Here's what Corsair have to say:
Secure USB Flash Drive
The Corsair Flash Padlock® 2 is perfect for transporting and protecting your sensitive business or personal information. With built-in 256-bit hardware data encryption, and access limited by a PIN, you can rest assured your information is safe from unintentional viewing. Built with the same ruggedized rubber housing found on the Corsair Flash Voyager family for durability, your data is protected from the elements as well.
Because the PIN keypad is integrated directly onto the flash drive, there is no software to install. Simply enter your own Personal Identification Number and your data is unlocked for use on virtually any PC operating system: Windows, OS X, or Linux—even game consoles. Without the PIN, your information stays secure and inaccessible.
Secure: Hardware 256-bit encryption secures your data
Protection: Your own 4-10 digit PIN protects and locks access to the Flash Padlock 2
Capacity: Large 8GB storage gives you ample room to store all your sensitive documents, or up to 2,480 images, or up to 2,000 songs
Compatible: No software to install — Works on Windows, Mac or Linux based computers — Plug & Play compatible with virtually any USB port
Hacking Detection: Multiple failed entries locks device for 2 minutes to prevent repeated attempts to access data
Drive Recovery: If you lose your PIN, you can reset the Flash Padlock to its factory default state, securely erasing all data from the drive
Confidence: Protected by a limited 10 year warranted and backed by Corsair's renowned customer service and support
Instantly any worries about OS compatibility are alleviated with the Padlock 2 having full support for Windows, Mac and Linux based systems due to there being no software to install. It's also good to see that Corsair have implemented a lock-out system that disables the drive for 2 minutes if the pin is entered incorrectly too many times. To be honest I would have liked the drive to wipe its self after around 20 incorrect PIN entries, but with the opportunity to use PINs up to 10 digits in length and 10 numbers on the keypad, you're looking at up to 10 billion possible combinations. Fancy taking a guess?
Another great feature on the list is the 10 year warranty. Almost all of my own USB drives have died within only a couple of years (sometimes a couple of days) so it's good to see that the higher cost of the Padlock 2 drive is a safe investment.
Onwards and upwards...
Packaging & Appearance
The Flash Padlock 2 is provided in a clear plastic blister pack with all sides of the packaging bonded together to prevent it from being tampered with in a retail store environment. This also makes it near impossible to remove the drive when you've legitimately paid for it and taken it home. An ideal medium would be to have some form of perforated area at the back of the packaging that can be torn to gain access to the drive. At least that way it prevents the "Who was the last person to use the bl**dy scissors" argument, and a trip to the dentist after attempting to chew your way through the plastic.
The packaging does have its advantages though, namely the benefit of placing the drive fully on show so that potential buyers can get a good look at exactly what they are about to drop £50 on. Additionally, the cardboard insert at the rear of the packaging gives some basic information about the drive along with a run-down of the accessories (such as a lan-yard and USB extension cable) which can be seen below.
Thankfully a small manual printed in English, French and German is also included. This gives essential details on how to set up, use and reset the Padlock 2 device. One area it doesn't seem to cover though is how to use the dual-digit keypad on the device if for example you wanted to set the PIN to 2233. Would you for example just press the 2|3 button four times, would you add a few second between each key press, or is it just not possible at all?
The flash drive its self is pretty huge in comparison to most 8GB memory drives and could easily invoke the tiresome "Is that an [insert item] in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me" remark if it happened to be orientated in an unfortunate position while attached to your keyring. To be fair though, fitting six buttons and two status LED's (along with all the inner-workings) on a device of this size is still fairly impressive. And to make it feel as robust as it does is something that Corsair should certainly be commended for.
Confession time now. When Corsair first came to us with the press release for the Padlock 2 and asked if we'd have any interest in reviewing it, we had absolutely no idea how we was actually going to 'test' the device. Sure we could line up the usual list of OC3D benchmarking programs, run off a load of result graphs and hope that nobody noticed that we avoided testing the most important feature of all - it's security. But with Corsair pounding it into our heads that "this drive is not designed for speed" from the outset, a quick run of Sisoft Sandra would never wash.
Hiring a 'hacker' would also be out of the question too. Plenty of people pertain to be 'hackers', yet most only really know how to use hacking utilities that other people have created. Not being 'hackers' ourselves we'd also have no idea if they were up to the job and whether an outcome such as "this drive is totally impenetrable" would actually be true. Additionally, hiring a verified security expert for the job would also be beyond our budget and a bit overkill considering it's just a USB stick we're looking at here.
And then it suddenly dawned upon us.
If we were unable to gain access to the drive and had to reset it thus wiping its contents, the first thing we'd do in order to try and recover what was on there previously would be to grab a copy of the best disk recovery tool we could find and set it to work on the flash drive. Could it really be this simple to get back that sensitive data? Let's find out...
Easeus Data Recovery Pro
Step 1: Set up a PIN number on the Padlock 2 and place an extremely important document on there. Server Passwords.docx - wouldn't you like to get your hands on that one? (It's actually the wifes shopping list).
Step 2: Test that the data recovery software is working by deleting the file from the drive and attempting to recover it. As we can see, Easeus has located the deleted file and is giving us the option to restore it.
Step 3: Place the file back on the drive, remove the drive from the PC and forget the PIN number. Oh no, now we need to reset the drives PIN resulting in our important document being wiped from the drive. But is it? Let's run the recovery tool over the now unformatted drive to see what it can pick up.
Nothing. Zip. Nadda. The drive was completely wiped clean with absolutely no traces of the previous data recoverable at all. Although this is by no means a scientific test, it certainly shows that a casual PC user would not be able to recover any data from the drive if they found it in the street. I think we can also be quite confident that even a seasoned Neo would have a tough time too.
Yes, I know we said that we wasn't going to run any performance benchmarks. But did you honestly believe us? At the very least we need just a rough idea of how the Padlock 2 performs. To do this we're going to be transferring a 3GB ISO file to and from the flash disk using DiskBench by NodeSoft. DiskBench is not to be confused with synthetic benchmarks as the sole purpose of the software is to time the transfer of a specified file between source and target drives. Based on the size of the file and the time taken, it can also calculate the average transfer speed in MB/s. The results are below:
The ATP Toughdrive chosen to be the Padlock 2's adversary is about the worst USB stick that we could dig up in the office, and unfortunately it still manages to give the Corsair a thorough pasting in the read results. On the up-side the writing results are more closely matched, but if you're expecting the Padlock 2 drive to be one of those sticks that you can quickly transfer a few hundred MB's of data over to on your way out of the front door in the morning, you're going to be quite disappointed.
The Corsair Flash Padlock 2 is a simple to use yet effective solution to a problem that most of us are only just waking up to. If you regularly carry around a USB stick that contains personal documents or worse yet, portable applications such as Firefox and that have username/password details for websites stored in them, then you REALLY need to start thinking about a device such as the Padlock 2.
While there are many software applications available on the internet, some even available under GPL (aka free) that will encrypt your existing USB drive. There are very few that will work on any platform (Windows, Windows x64, OS X, Linux...) and the process of encrypting the drive and later gaining access to it is never going to be quite as easy as simply punching in a few numbers on the device its self.
Unfortunately the only downfall to the Padlock 2 is that it cannot call on the resources of the PC to assist with the encryption and decryption process like a software based solution can. Therefore is quite a bit slower than most half decent USB drives. However, we must remember that the Padlock 2 is not designed for speed - and comparing it to a standard USB drive is akin to comparing a Securicor van to an Escort Cosworth. You wouldn't take a Securicor van to a 1/4 mile drag race, and you wouldn't use a Cosworth to transport dangerous convicts or a vault load of cash.
Finally, it's also worth repeating that the Flash Padlock 2 drive is provided with a whopping 10 year warranty. This alone goes a long way to justifying its £44 price tag.
- Keeps your personal data safe. Even after resetting the PIN, previous data is unrecoverable.
- Easy to use.
- No software to install. Ensuring that it works on any operating system or device with USB ports.
- 10 year warranty makes it a good investment.
- It's a bit chunky.
- Still unsure on exactly how (if at all) you can set PIN codes with repeating numbers such as 2233.
- Performance is pretty poor. But security isn't without its overheads.
- Nothing really, unless you hate sealed blister pack packaging as much as I do.
Thanks to Corsair for the sample today, you can discuss this review, and many others in our forums.