A Japanese company has taken a leaf from bank ATM security by launching a portable hard drive that comes with its own built-in PIN keypad.

The USB-based EZSecu EZ850 is an enclosure based around a normal 2.5 inch SATA drive of the type familiar to any laptop user, but up close it looks more like portable safe than a hard disk. One side of the unit is dominated by a touchscreen, on which users have to enter a PIN code of up to six characters from a keypad of nine digits plus zero.

Connect the drive to a PC without entering the PIN code, and it won’t be recognised.

It is not known if its Japanese distributors – the company has the rather offputting name - "Digital Cowboy" – will make the EZ850 available outside Japan, though the westernised branding name suggests that they might. The drive is reported to cost £70 ($140), and is nearly identical to a drive from Korean company IOTEK that appeared last November, without apparently going on sale.

It is also unclear whether the drive security could be bypassed by removing the drive from the enclosure and simply reading it through a system with no PIN interface. It is likely that it uses some form of encryption to make the drive unreadabale when removed from the enclosure.

Storage vendors have started coming up with a variety of ways to secure portable storage, ranging from built-in data encryption to PIN entry on USB flash drives. Fingerprint readers have also been used.

The advantages of PINs are their simplicity, and the fact that the drive carries everything around needed to secure it with no need for additional software. Others will argue that full-drive encryption with software access is probably just as practical for business users.