IronKey S1000 secure USB drive review

It’s only a USB stick after all but it’s hard not to think that IronKey’s S1000 is an object of technological beauty.

Perhaps that’s an exaggeration but we did note when covering the product launch in February 2015 that the S1000 has ascended to the status of a classic design. Secure USB sticks are ten-a-penny these days, almost every significant storage vendors has one, but the simple metal IronKey design is still arguably the best. It’s also looked like this since first appearing in 2008, which says something about its popularity.

ironkeys1000

We also raised a harder question about function – do businesses still want USB keys when cloud sharing services offer a simpler and possibly more manageable solution for making important files accessible?

Cloud storage has its own headaches such as compliance but we’re still not sure whether a physical USB key will win many new coverts in 2015. The enterprises using them probably always have used them and the IronKey and its rugged FIPS 140-2 Level 3 formula is still king.

As it happens, the IronKey Enterprise Management server used to administer the S100 Enterprise can be cloud-based or on-premises. As with previous versions (including the established D250), this allows a variety of parameters to be password set by policy, including minimum password strength, the number of retries allowed and on which systems drives can be used.

Importantly, users can also self-provision drives, including the ability to securely recover lost or forgotten passwords.

Once deployed, drives can be remotely disabled and even destroyed to the extent that the on-board encryption chip will no longer function.

Physically, the S1000 is shock-resistant to military standards, features USB 3.0, and uses dual-channel MLC flash chips that can be written to at a claimed 400MB/sec with a long life expectancy for repeated use. The encryption is XTS-AES 256-bit hardware acceleration.

Using it is simple. Plugging it in brings up an unlcoker screen on the PC (all versions of Windows, OS X and Linux 2.6), into which the password is entered. On the standalone version a few settings can be configured such as a security timeout period as well as new passwords.

Two small issues we spotted. First, the length and size of this device means that when used with a laptop it sticks out in a way that risks being accidentally knocked. When left in for a few hours it also grew surprisingly warm, a consequence of its heat-conducting metal case.

The other issue is price. The standalone ‘Basic’ 8GB version costs around £150 plus VAT on a one-off basis, which makes it a specialist purchase even for organisations that value the security and compliance on offer. Even with volume discounts and a management server license the S1000 Enterprise is not something every employee will end up being equipped with.

 A full comparison of the different IronKey USB drives can be found here.

OUR VERDICT

An expensive and outwardly old-fashioned secure USB stick that justifies its cost with stellar security features including ruggedness (including being waterproof) and extensive remote management. Another attraction is that the platform is mature - its designers have thought of everything. There are many lion cubs in this market but only one lion king.