When you need to transfer files between computers or just keep a copy somewhere safe, a USB stick is the obvious solution. The problem is they are very easy to lose, and whoever finds it can plug one into any PC and read your data. Most of us deal with files that we’d like to keep from prying eyes, whether they contain credit-card details or company accounts. That’s where an encrypted drive comes in very useful.
Windows 10 includes a feature called BitLocker that lets you encrypt a connected USB stick. Unfortunately, you only get BitLocker with the more expensive Professional edition, which most of us don’t have. Encryption software is available from other developers, such as BestCrypt ($99 – about £81 – from www.snipca.com/23035), and there are a few free alternatives, but these can make the whole process quite complicated. And the
If you need security with simplicity this could be the USB stick for you
more complicated things are, the less likely you are to use encryption. And if you do use it, you may have trouble decrypting your files.
This USB drive simplifies matters by providing built-in encryption. Rather than unlocking it using software, you use a physical keypad built into the drive. Enter your code and the data is readable on any computer – just like a standard USB stick. It works with Windows PCs, Chromebooks, Macs, Linux, and Android devices – basically anything with a USB port. You can set it to automatically lock or erase itself if too many attempts are made using the wrong code. You can also give trusted users a separate code to read files but not erase them.
Once you set a PIN, which must be seven to 15 digits, anything saved on the drive is encrypted. As soon as you eject the drive, it’s unreadable until you enter the PIN again (before inserting it into a USB port). And that’s really all there is to it. In our tests, with a USB 3.0 port, our PC read data from the drive at up to 169Mbit/s and wrote at up to 107Mbit/s, falling to 27 or 25Mbit/s respectively with small files. That’s reasonably fast for a USB stick.
The Datashur Flash Drive is certainly more expensive than a plain USB stick, from £39 for 4GB to £99 for 32GB, but worth it if you need simple and effective protection. It’s water- and dust-resistant. For an extra £5, you can have text and/or graphics engraved on the drive, telling people where to return it if it’s lost.
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HOW DRIVE ENCRYPTION WORKS
The Datashur drive uses AES 256-bit encryption, which – at least until the next breakthrough in computer science – is effectively unbreakable. Because you never type the PIN on your PC, it can’t be intercepted by malware. That only leaves the possibility of human error, such as the product’s designers messing up or you leaving the PIN on a sticky note. iStorage is a widely renowned UK supplier of hardware encryption, so you’re probably the only weak link here.
The keypad isn’t a physical combination lock, just an input device for the drive’s internal software. It’s powered by an internal battery which recharges while the drive is plugged into a USB port. If it runs down, the drive won’t unlock, but plugging it into a PC will get it working again.
Flash memory drive with built-in keypad • AES 256-bit hardware encryption • USB 2.0 plug (use with USB 3.0 port for best performance) • Rechargeable battery • 10.5x80x20mm (HxWxD) • 25g
It’s very safe and easy to use, but only worth buying if the files you want to encrypt are extremely sensitive
Integral Crypto 8GB USB Flash Drive
Lots of drives such as this have built-in encryption, but rely on PC software to unlock