Lots of portable devices now have flash memory cards and PCMCIA hard drives that are used to carry multiple megabytes of information. If one of these flash memory-based cards or a PCMICIA hard drive card falls into the wrong hands then everything on it can be read easily and copied. They are completely insecure once out of the owners' hands.

The answer is obvious; encrypt the card's contents. We've been here before in product review land with devices such as encrypted external hard drives. There always seems to be a problem like software to install and manage and keys to take great care of. Using encrypted devices is not as simple as using non-encrypted devices. It's not really fair to expect that it should be but we do find ourselves wishing that it were easier say, than gaining access to the international departures lounge at Heathrow.

A good analogy for what Addonics does with the Cipher UD, meaning Ultra DigiDrive, is a household's front door. You need a key to open it and a key to lock it. No key means no entry. The door is equipped with a lock and the key has to be inserted in it.

You have to do the same with the Cipher UDD only the key, a physical device, has hardware encryption on it; DES 64 in our case. You insert a flash card into the Cipher UDD and nothing happens, even though the Cipher UDD is connected to a USB port on your computer. What you have to first is install the key device, or dongle, into its socket on the device. Then you install the flash card, the power lights go on and your Windows system recognises there is a new USB removable disk attached to it.

If it is the first time that the flash card has been used with Cipher UDD then it is unformatted as far as Windows is concerned. So format it, losing any information that might be on it from pre-Cipher UDD use. When that's complete you can create a folder on it and drag and drop files into the folder.

They are encrypted before being written to the flash card, using hardware encryption. Once that's done these files and folders cannot be accessed ever again unless a key identical to the one used to encrypt them in the first place is inserted into the same or another connected Cipher UDD device and the flash card then inserted into the Cipher UDD.

These files and folders are totally invisible outside the Cipher UDD environment. If inserted into any Windows computer system socket the smart card will appear to be totally unformatted. If formatted the encrypted information on it is lost.

If a hacker, cracker or whoever actually gets access to the card then all they will see is DES64-encrypted garbage. No key? No access! Your information is stored with bullet-proof security.

Because the Cipher UDD represents itself to Windows as a standard USB storage device there is no software to load, no software interface to understand. It's all standard Windows drag-and-drop. Using flash cards in secure mode in this way is as easy as locking your front door and carrying your key with you as you go to work, do the office tasks, and then return home, unlocking your front door with the key.

With the Cipher UDD you have to carry a key around with you or else have one stored with a trusted person at a remote site if you are going to be sending flash cards there. Addonics can duplicate keys if you need more than the two that come as standard.

There are a multitude of supported flash card formats and a couple of PCMCIA card carriers for them. E.g.;

- Read and write to PCMCIA hard drive, ATA Flash.
- Read / Write to CF-I, CF-II via Addonics optional CF DigiAdapter.
- Read / Write Smart Memory, Memory Stick, MicroDrive, Multimedia Card, Secure Digital Card via Addonics Cipher UDD 4-in-1 DigiAdapter

The encryption options available are hardware based 64-bit DES, 128-bit or 192-bit TDES full disk encryption. Encryption is carried out by an onboard ASIC with no host CPU cycles used. No power supply is needed with the USB Cipher UDD as the USB port supplies all the power needed. USB version works with Windows 98SE, 2000, Me, XP, 2003 server, Linux Kernel 2.4 and above, Mac OS X and above, and Solaris 9 or above.

This is a tremendously secure yet easy to use system. But you need to be aware that it is rock-solid. Losing a key means you can't access the encrypted contents of your smart card or PCMCIA hard drive ever again. Addonics delivers two identical keys with every device. So store one in a safe. Having a duplicate key stored in a safe place is a very sensible safeguard against mislaid keys. It might sound a nuisance but, hey, we do that with our household front door key too, often keeping a spare one under a flowerpot in the garage for example.

Addonics' Cipher UDD is a very easy-to-use smart card encryption device that is highly secure. Because it uses hardware encryption reading and writing data is fast and you won't notice any slight delays in access due to the encryption or decryption of data on the fly as you access it.

It's well thought out, well made, and its operation is readily understood. With it you need never fear losing sensitive or confidential information on a smart card or PCMCIA hard drive ever again.

OUR VERDICT

It is good value for money, exceptional in fact.