Kingston has launched an encrypted USB stick that could finally mark the moment when such drives become cheap enough to start taking market share from traditional, unsecured rivals.

The overwhelming majority of USB sticks sold today are larger and perhaps faster than in the past but, surprisingly, no more secure. Despite price falls, drives featuring integrated hardware encryption are still seen as a luxury for those who really need the reassurance.

This used to be down to price and perhaps performance; encrypted drives were considerably more expensive and often slower. The end result is that the vast majority of unencrypted drives lost - and huge numbers are lost - put at risk the personal or business data they are holding

Kingston's DataTraveler Locker+ G2 is still pricier than unencrypted equivalents but that difference is now a matter of a few dollars for entry-level models.

The 4GB drive retails for around £9 ($14), the 8GB £10.30, the 16GB £18.40, the 32GB £41, although these prices will inevitably be discounted in the same way all USB flash drives tend to be. All have a five-year warranty and use 256-bit AES.

"Data security for consumers is simple and affordable with the new DataTraveler Locker+ G2. The data encryption makes this the perfect USB drive to keep your information safe and out of strangers’ hands in case it ever gets lost," said Kingston European product manager, Krystian Jaroszynski.

"Users can take their data between Mac and PC systems with ease, and also safely store login information to websites with the included password manager.” The status of Linux support for the encryption was not confirmed.

The drives install without the need for additional software, the company said, and offered performance around the 10MB/s read and 5MB/s write speed, about average for a USB 2.0 flash drive.

As well as featuring encryption through a built-in chip, the DataTraveler Locker+ G2 also limits password attempts to 10 tries and offers the ability to share the drive between up to 20 users.

This feature alone – the possibility of sharing – could make the drive interesting to smaller SMEs, at least those without the need for more advanced management such as password recovery. The robust metal-clad case promises to make deployment to multiple users at least possible to imagine.

USB sticks are sold with a diverse range of security technolgies from biometric authentication to PIN codes. These tend to add cost. The real solution ot the average user's security worries is for all drives, even basic ones, to offer some form of encryption and make that as easy as possible to use.