Anyone traveling with or looking to move data securely from one computer might be interested in iStorage’s many offerings.
The company, based in the United Kingdom, offers virus protection and backup solutions on the software side to go along with their bread and butter business — encrypted hard drives with PIN authentication that conforms to the highest in government standards.
Their various drives come in all sorts of different colors, shapes, and sizes. And while their more expensive offerings make the company look like their main demographic is made up of business and corporations hoping to stave off spies and hostile engineers, they have a new offering of personal flash drives for the weekend warriors or the duly paranoid.
The datAshur Personal2 is a flash drive aimed at consumers who want to make sure their files stay private. Whether they’re filled with presentations heading home for some extra polish or security footage that needs a second look, no one without the PIN code should be able to reasonably break through the military grade AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption.
Packaging and Contents
The dataShur Personal2 comes securely packaged with a quick start guide that notes that the drive should be charged for 30-60 minutes before being unlocked for the first time. Details on how to unlock the drive for the first time are included along with information about changing the PIN code.
The flash drive comes with a cap to protect the connection, and it slides smoothly on and off the drive.
The keys are tiny and require a good bit of pressure. There’s a quiet yet audible click that lets you know it’s been depressed. There are LEDs at the top and bottom that let you know whether the drive is locked, unlocked or, depending on color and whether it’s blinking or flashing, know what’s happening or not happening with the drive.
On the back side of the drive, customers can opt to have text or logos etched onto a silver plate that’s useful for noting who owns the drive or keep mixups from happening. Without identification and a pocketful of drives, testing and inputting PIN numbers could become a nightmare especially in urgent situations.
After charging the drive to get it up and running, the default PIN code can be used to unlock it for the first time. Inputting the code is simple enough — press the key button and wait for all the LEDs to flash once and then blink red.
You will have 10 seconds to enter the default PIN. If successful, a red LED will stay solid for two seconds before changing to a solid green.
For 30 seconds, you will be able to plug the USB in before the drive locks itself again.
I was able to do it on the first try after reading the instructions. My assistant, who only knew the code, wasn’t able to come up with his own procedure for unlocking it until I told him exactly how to do it.
To lock the drive after it’s inserted, all you have to do is remove the drive from the computer.
To change the PIN, you have to unlock the drive then press the key button twice. PINs must be between seven to 15 digits long, and they cannot be sequential or all the same number. That might be a problem for Dark Helmet and the Spaceballs, but it’s a good practice.
After you’ve settled on a new PIN, press the key button twice again, re-enter the PIN, and then press the key button twice. You’ll know if if the process is done quickly if the lights match what happens on the quick start guide.
Now, to clarify and explain what’s happening with encryption, the company says it uses hardware encryption instead of software encryption, and for several reasons. According to iStorage, the datAshur Personal2 can’t be brute force attacked, isn’t vulnerable to keyloggers, and doesn’t require extraneous software to be unlocked. Encryption is also performed in real-time without any speed issues, and no software or drivers need to be installed in order to use the drive.
The only thing that can unlock your drive is the PIN code, and you can even create a PIN code for an administrator that can be used to override a user’s PIN. But be warned — or reassured in case of loss — that 10 failed attempts to unlock the drive if there is both an admin and user code will result in an instant wipe of the drive.
The drive comes in various sizes of gigabytes from 8GB to 64GB, which is more than enough for loading documents, photographs, some mp3s, or a 1080p movie or three.
That brings to mind several questions about the datAshur Personal2 that most people will ask before they spend cash on the product — what happens when the rechargeable battery fails? What if I forget my password, and I don’t have an administrator to wipe the PIN code? What if I accidentally butt-dial the code and cause the drive to be wiped? Can I restore the contents of a drive?
The simple solution to all these questions is, well, rather simple — the files on the daAshur Personal2 should never, ever be the only versions of those files. It should be used like a briefcase carrying carbon-copies of important files and documents to and from work or school. Any IT worker would tell you, “Always have a backup plan,” and that piece of advice should be on a poster hanging in the wall of your mind palace.
For instances where having a backup file could be a liability — you’re a Bond villain or spy who has to cover their tracks — this drive is not for you. You’ll have to look at iStorage’s other more hefty and secure options which are better geared for those for-your-eyes-only mission briefings.
One suggestion I would make is improving the cap. Like anything that requires friction to remain stuck, I worry that this will eventually come loose and become lost. There’s nothing like a failed connector to protect the contents of your drive, and I would rather have something a little more secure that snaps or locks on. The keys would probably also feel better protected from accidental pressings with a cover of some sort. One could argue the drive keypad doesn’t require so many keys — it could be a combination of 1, 2, 3, 4 and A, B, C, D to make it a bit smaller and more compact.
Ultimately, the drive works, and it works fast. As long as you own a computer with a USB 3.0 port, and you don’t mind having to spend a few seconds keying in a code every time you want to access your files, this is the flash drive you’ve been looking for.
This review is based on a review-sample 64GB drive sent to us from the company.