Kingston has announced a USB drive that enforces high-level encryption on anyone using it, from any PC.

The DataTraveler Elite (DTE), Privacy Edition encrypts and decrypts data on-the-fly using the 128-bit AES algorithm, without the user being aware it is happening.

The usefulness of this is that the user can’t sidestep data security policies by forgetting to use it, the company said. No special software is needed, and the drive can be used without admin rights.

The drive also comes with a feature designed to stop the encryption passphrase from being hacked. Anyone mounting a brute force attack on this will be locked out after 25 attempts.

"Many organisations have hundreds of megabytes of critical information stored on personal drives that are potentially at risk to loss or theft. With DTE Privacy Edition, enterprises can support their increasingly mobile workforces with an enterprise-grade storage solution, and have peace of mind that sensitive information is secure,"said Mark Leathem of Kingston.

Using secure algorithms such as AES to secure storage is nothing new, but doing the encryption work in hardware for data reads/ writes counts as the sort of first that would keep even the most paranoid sysadmin happy. The attraction of the system is that the data is secured to a high degree by default.

Kingston has hinted that it will introduce software management later in the year to give admins the ability to monitor what is being encrypted on the drives.

It is not clear what degree of latency this design introduces, but it should be minimal given that the encryption is happening using a built-in chip accelerator. AES would normally introduce a small overhead on the host PC without special hardware. Quoted data transfer rates are 24 MB/s for reads and up to 14 MB/s for writes.

More importantly, putting the encryption in hardware keeps it out of the host PC's main memory, where it is at theoretical risk from interception by malware. An added benefit is that no extra software is needed on the PC to do the work being done by the drive hardware.

The DataTraveler® Elite (DTE), Privacy Edition is available in a number of capacities up to 4GB for prices that range from $48 (256MB) to $347 (4GB). It will run on Windows XP or Windows 2000 SP4 or higher.