We’re starting to see more USB flash drives with encryption to protect onboard data – and with good reason considering the storage capacity of these portable sticks, and in turn, their capacity for damage when they get lost. The IronKey Personal is such a device.

There’s now a trend away from software encryption toward hardware scrambling, acknowledged as a more secure barrier against outside hacking. Like the SanDisk Enterprise USB drive, with the IronKey Personal you must first set up a secure password to lock down your key, which you type in every time you insert it into a computer.

The IronKey Personal is now cross-platform, working on Windows with a password manager, and Mac OS X and Linux for just encryption, without requiring the installation of any software.

Where the IronKey Personal principally differs from other encrypted drives is the way it protects your data in the case of unsuccessful password attempts. Instead of reformatting your data and leaving you with a blank drive, the IronKey self-destructs.

This is not quite in the manner of Mission Impossible ‘Jim, this message will self-destruct in five seconds’; instead of smoke pouring from the USB device, it will permanently and irreversibly destroy the data inside – and render the device useless thereafter. IronKey Personal assures its users that ‘you, personally, should not be physically harmed when this happens’!

The USB drive itself is made from a sturdy piece of metal, although for ‘sturdy’ do not read elegant. In fact our sample IronKey Personal was poorly finished and resembled something assembled in a school workshop.

The cap did not sit on straight as the USB contacts end had been crudely glued in place at an angle, and epoxy was visible around the join. The IronKey Personal's exterior looked all-too hand filed and polished.

But for its target audience, the IronKey Personal's low-grade exterior may be compensated by the high-grade encryption inside. It’s even epoxy-potted inside to deter determined attempts to physically crack it open, backed up by automatic self-destruction after tampering.

Users are encouraged to log their IronKey Personal passwords at the my.ironkey.com website, as 10 consecutive failed logins will leave you with an ornamental keyring.

Already installed on the drive is a portable version of Mozilla Firefox 2.0, offering browsing sessions with all history and cookies stored on the key. A Secure Sessions service is offered, directing your browsing via the IronKey company’s server for security. One-year’s subscription is included; thereafter a fee is applicable.

You can also make an encrypted backup of your IronKey Personal’s content’s on to your personal computer.

The IronKey Personal's performance is superior to that of most USB drives, recording a write speed of 27.9MBps and random access of just 3.4ms.

OUR VERDICT

Build quality aside, the IronKey Personal is an impressive piece of portable storage with capacities up to 8GB. Its security looks bullet-proof – but beware of bricking it with repeated wrong passwords.