A new secure USB flash drive offers 256-bit hardware encryption with support for both Windows and Macintosh systems
Security has caught up with the USB stick, in the form of a new generation of secure flash sticks, such as this SanDisk's Cruzer Enterprise. Instead of software encryption, they use an even tougher system to crack - hardware lockdown.
It looks much like its cousins in the same Cruzer range, but this Enterprise version is a very different device. Available in 1GB, 2GB and 4GB capacities, the Cruzer Enterprise puts the new developments on the inside of the drive housing in the form of a built-in cypher chip, which speeds all scrambling/unscrambling of data on the fly using 256-bit AES encryption. All this is without the user being aware that anything is happening behind the scenes.
Performance is claimed to be up to 24Mb/s on reads and up to 20Mb/s on writes. We measured it at just a little lower, with a 20.1Mb/s write speed.
All the user needs do is enter the chosen password, which must conform to certain rules by including a range of character types (at least three lower case letters, three upper case, and three numbers).
Having the encryption built-in means that the data never exists in its unencrypted form except when it is being worked on and, importantly, data cannot exist on the drive without any encryption being used.
Lose the drive and the data is safe; lose the encryption key and the data is history, enforcing a hardware reformat that destroys the data, so good key management is essential.
Get the password wrong ten times in a row, and the drive will automatically reformat itself and wipe all data inside. You then get the chance to select a new password.
The first time it's used, you're asked to choose a password, up to 16 characters. Thereafter it can be easily read on any Windows PC providing you know that password.
Unfortunately for Mac users, they must install - with admin privileges - the SanDisk software on every new Mac it's plugged into, and therafter effect a complete restart before you're ready to go.
This flash drive is neatly finished in a tough-looking matt black plastic, and has a click-on lid that also serves as a pocket clip. A hole for lanyard is on the main body so the drive can be safely carried around the neck without fear of losing it if the lid comes free.
The advantage of the Cruzer Enterprise is its simplicity – plus its recent cross-platform nature, enabling it to work in a mixed Windows and Mac environment. One day all flash drives will be made this way, with transparent encryption for the end user.