AutoSave Encrypt is probably the simplest encryption product ever invented. It involves no software installation whatsoever, could be used by anyone sentient enough to execute mouse clicks, and isn't, when all is considered, particularly expensive.

A lot to warm to then, but it is still a shock to open a software box to find no software install disk. There are five incarnations of the product, one for photo backup, one for office/document backup, one for email backup, one for music, and the final one (which we looked at) a general-purpose super-secure version.

In fact, despite different packing and names all versions are basically very similar, and despite the naming used each could be used to securely back up any of the file types mentioned. The physical difference is that the photo and email versions use 4.7GB DVD-RW discs, while the general and office versions use smaller 680MB CD-RWs.

All come with backup software 'embedded' on each single disc, but the clever version, AutoSave Encrypt, also includes a software program for setting up encrypted data and for later recovering it. It can, therefore, be used on any Windows XP, Vista (and Windows 7) PC, without the need to install a program.

Setup is as simple as inserting one of four discs (the Photo version comes with six for some reason), running a supplied app from the disc, choosing a passphrase of up to 256 characters, and selecting the data to be encrypted. It uses, we are told, 256-bit AES with the actual encryption key generated using SHA-256 from the user's passphrase. Guessing the password incorrectly three times results in an ejection of the disc every three attempts, which would make a brute force extremely inconvenient.

Once data has encrypted and burned to the disc, which took a reasonable 3 minutes for 320MB of test data - it can be accessed simply by running the same embedded app and supplying the passphrase. Because the discs are multi-session, more data can be added or used to overwrite later on by repeating the same process.

Two other useful features. The passphrase can be entered using a virtual keyboard to evade keyloggers, and the software will also ask whether the source files for the session should be securely wiped. The method for wiping isn't specified, but it avoids the issue of inadvertently leaving unencrypted files lying around after they have been copied.

Wouldn't it be easier to get hold of a freeware encryption utility such as Truecrypt and some rewritable media and do it for yourself? Possibly, but that introduces issues that AutoSave Encrypt gets round, such as not having to download anything or have a specific program on every computer into which a disc is inserted. This is an all-in-one solution to the problem, assuming you trust the encryption that can be used by anyone at a business. It's also not severely priced at around £16 (inc VAT) for six DVDs, which is up to 28.2Gb of encrypted backup.

Some might also point out that CD storage is almost obsolete as a medium - how far does 680MB go these days? Not far enough. As to the larger DVD versions, which lack encryption, it's hard to see how embedded backup alone justifies the price.

If it has a funadamental issue it's that of saving any encrypted data to a form of media that might be stored for months or years without being accessed. Will the user still remember or know the passphrase?

Now if only HMRC had heard of this product before losing the entire child benefit database on CDs in 2008.

US pricing:

AutoSave Photos - $19.95 MSRP for 6 pack of AutoSave Photos discs
AutoSave Emails - $29.95 MSRP for 4 pack of AutoSave Emails discs
AutoSave Office - $19.95 MSRP for 4 pack of AutoSave Office discs
AutoSave Encrypt - $24.95 MSRP for 4 pack of AutoSave Encrypt discs


The type of encryption chosen will depend on the medium to which the files are being saved (CDs/DVDs are popular because they can be stored offsite) . Standalone apps are cheaper for high volumes, but involve more complexity. Whatever transpires, it is important to think about where passphrases to unlock the data end up being stored. Inside someone's head is the wrong answer.