Losing your flash drive is all too easy but while it’s frustrating for you, it also leaves your data vulnerable to being viewed by ne'er-do-wells. iStorage hopes to cash in on businesses’ security concerns with the iStorage datAshur, a hardware-encrypted device that the firm claims can’t be hacked.
It isn’t simply paranoia that makes the iStorage datAshur appealing: companies can now be fined up to £500,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act. That includes employees mislaying flash drives containing sensitive client data, so there’s a greater incentive than ever to invest in encrypted drives.
The iStorage datAshur is available in 4GB, 8GB and 16GB capacities. It differs from most flash drives in length, being a little longer to accommodate the keypad. The drive includes a full length anodised aluminium sleeve to help protect against dust and water. Overall build quality is smart but tough.
To unlock the iStorage datAshur drive the user must enter a 7 to 14 digit code before inserting it into a USB port. Buttons are quite small so large fingers may have some difficulty finding the right key.
The keypad on the iStorage datAshur is critical for security as it means the drive works independently from a computer and prevents a keylogger from recording a code entered via a PC keyboard. It also means the drive works with any modern operating system and doesn’t require any specific software or drivers.
Two codes can be stored: an admin PIN and a user PIN. Should the user forget their number, the admin code can be entered to unlock the drive and configure a new user PIN. To prevent brute force attacks, the data is destroyed and a new encryption key randomly generated if an incorrect PIN is entered 10 times consecutively. When you set a new PIN and connect the drive to a computer, you'll then have to format it before copying any files to it.
Data is encrypted in real-time, and shouldn’t slow the drive down when writing or reading files to or from the drive. However, we were disappointed with the datAshur’s slow performance in our tests.
Using the Windows ATTO benchmark test, we managed an average of 12.5MB/s when writing and 9.1MB/s when reading. We'd expect a premium drive such as this to be at least twice as fast.
Of course, we’ve seen similar storage devices with hardware keypads before: iStorage’s own diskGenie and the Digisafe DiskCrypt Mobile. However, both are mobile hard disks and aren’t nearly as pocketable as the iStorage datAshur.
The IronKey is another hardware-encrypted flash drive, but it's considerably more expensive and lacks a keypad, leaving it vulnerable to keylogging software.
There's no doubt that the iStorage datAshur is one of the most secure USB flash drives around, and this makes the steep price less of a problem when dealing with sensitive data. Unfortunately, performance isn't as good as we'd expect and for this reason it doesn't win an award. If performance doesn't worry you, it's a great buy.