Review: 7 secure USB drives

Should you trust these flash drives to safeguard your data?

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The Kingston DataTraveler Secure -- Privacy Edition

Kingston Technology's DataTraveler Secure -- Privacy Edition (DTSP) flash drive can hold up to 8GB securely using 256-bit AES hardware-based encryption. Kingston refused to say what encryption mode the device runs in, citing that it was proprietary information.

This device is chunkier than most tested, but if you like a more substantial feel to a USB flash drive, this may be the one for you. It comes without fancy colors, just a serious-looking, gray-colored casing.

I plugged the USB 2.0 device into my test laptop, and Windows XP recognized and added two drives: the "E" drive contained a preformatted 6MB read-only partition with the security software (DTSP Launcher, along with the DTSP system files) and an "F" drive with no space available.

I had to run the installation program for the security software manually (the user guide says that autolaunching sometimes fails).

Security features

Kingston has two flavors of the DataTraveler drive for the security-conscious: the DataTraveler Secure and DataTraveler Secure -- Privacy Edition. The difference between the two is that the DataTraveler Secure edition can contain a partition without password protection, and there is no minimum number of characters required for a password.

In contrast, the Privacy Edition requires all data on the drive be encrypted and a password must be from six to 16 characters long and contain at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, and one digit or special character (though there is no list of what special characters are acceptable). The password will be used to access all the files on the F drive and can be easily changed later if you wish.

The password screen also asks for a "hint" to remind you of the password. I entered the same text as the password itself (Backup1), but the software protested, saying "The hint you entered is too similar to the password." It did not object, however, when I inserted a space before the digit (e.g., Backup 1).

After installation, the F drive appeared in Windows Explorer with the name KINGSTON and with 7.58GB available. An icon is also added to the System Tray for accessing the drive and utilities (described below).

On subsequent boot-ups of my test system, the password prompt window automatically appeared when I inserted the drive into a USB slot. If it doesn't, you can run a program on the read-only partition (our E drive) to launch it manually. I never had to do that.

When you're done using the drive, click the Kingston icon in the System Tray and choose the "Shut Down" option to safely prepare the drive for removal. As with any USB device, you can also simply remove it (we never experienced data loss), though it's not the recommended technique.

If your drive is lost or stolen, you're protected: The person trying to access your files will have to enter your password. After 10 unsuccessful attempts (the default), the drive can no longer be accessed without formatting the drive, which will destroy all your data. (From the System Tray icon, you can also format the drive on demand, though you'll need the password if you're using Windows XP/2000 as a non-administrative user or Windows Vista with any user rights to complete the format.) Note that there is no provision to add a separate password to individual files -- just to the drive partition as a whole.

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The Kingston DataTraveler Secure, Privacy Edition

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Speed, pricing and the bottom line

The company says the drive can read at up to 24MB/sec. and write at up to 10MB/sec. Using the Hd Tach's 32MB block size test, the benchmark registered 20.2MB/sec. burst speed, an average read speed of 13.2MB/sec. and utilized 10% of the CPU.

Copying a 1GB MPEG video file from my hard drive to the DTSecure Privacy took 98 seconds. Playback takes a little longer to begin; when I launched a 1.2GB MPEG file from the hard drive, it started running in Windows Media Player 11 after 45 seconds. When I double-clicked on the same file I'd copied to the DTSecure Privacy drive, playback started after 62 seconds.

The device works with Windows 2000 (SP3 and above), XP (SP1 and above) and Vista. To avoid drive-letter assignment, users without admin rights should have two available drive letters between physical drives and network shares.

The 8GB DataTraveler Secure -- Privacy Edition retails for $327 direct from Kingston. Ie found lower-capacity models on PriceGrabber for anywhere from $60 for a 512MB model to $150 for an 4GB model.

If you need to work with data on the go and want to make sure it's protected, the security software's password prompt is as simple as it gets, so you don't have to jump through hoops to get to your data. For professional or consumer alike, Kingston's DTSecure Privacy is a smart choice. -- Rich Ericson

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