A UK storage security company has come up with an encryption-based hard drive that can be slotted into any laptop without additional hardware, software upgrades or BIOS modifications.

Stonewood’s new Eclypt drive, a follow-up to the company’s specialist Flagstone series, comes in either internal or external USB format, both of which transparently encrypt all data to and from the drive independent of the OS.

Using AES-256 encryption, the drive is designed to be fitted and forgotten about with minimal user key management. Unlike the full disk encryption design of rival drives on the market, the Eclypt is built around the idea that many people – up to 128 per drive - can use and access the same laptop, all with different keys. These can be stored on a token such as a USB flash drive, but for security reasons are held internally on the drive’s printed circuit board (PCB) and not on the drive itself.

Integrated encryption acceleration is said to keep drive latency to a minimum. Capacities are now 60GB and 120GB in parallel-ATA or SATA interfaces, with higher capacities being mentioned for the near future.

The Eclypt is also housed in a special case that claims to be tamper-proof. Attempts to break into the drive itself by removing the casing cause key components on the drive to break, rendering the data elements of the drive useless.

“The fundamental difference between a Seagate unit and ours is that on ours the key is held on the PCB,” claimed Stonewood’s Grant Gutteridge, referring to the rival storage giant’s full-disk encryption product, the Momentus FDE.2. “You would not be able to mount an attack on our drives because the key is not on the drive itself.”

[Note: Seagate has pointed out that its drive also holds the key on the PCB when powered - they key is not in fact held on the drive, as was implied by Gutteridge, and it would resist such attacks.]

Gutteridge also extolled the virtues of the external USB-attached version of the Eclypt.

“If you’re backing up to a tape device, it is unencrypted [by default]. The beauty here of using an external Eclypt is that you just back up [using encryption] and away you go,” he said.

The Eclypt drives will still be sold at a premium to cover the built-in encryption and tamper-proof case design. The company was unable to quote final prices but indicated that the 120GB external unit would be “around” the £300 ($600) mark, with a 60GB internal drive costing roughly £200 ($400). The Eclypt laptop drive would be available in June, with the external drive hitting the market in August.