THE MAGAZINE

Worth a Look: IronKey USB Drive

By John Wagley

At first glance, The IronKey (IK) USB drive looks tough, resembling a thumb-sized iron bar. While not actually made of iron, the die-cast case is waterproof, and inside, nearly invincible to tampering. Its interior is encased in an epoxy compound that makes manipulating components extremely difficult.

But its hardened exterior conceals perhaps the IK’s biggest differentiator: its numerous onboard privacy and security features.   

Perhaps most notable is the Secure Sessions Service, which lets users stealthily surf through insecure wireless networks, public Wi-Fi hotspots, and ISPs while hiding their IP address and other identifiable information. Owners can also use a computer without leaving behind any footprints, passwords, or other personal information.

After plugging in the drive and entering a password, owners can launch an onboard version of Mozilla Firefox. Once opened, the browser has a small icon in one corner allowing users to begin stealth mode. For stealth mode, IK uses Tor (The Onion Router), a free anonymous browsing system sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But the product improves on Tor in two ways.

Whereas the router service, run by hundreds of anonymous server operators, can be slow and erratic, IK makes surfing faster by using its own dedicated high-speed servers. Customers also avoid the occasional dose of malware some users have picked up using traditional Tor servers.

The drive also has outstanding data protection. When initially installed, the product’s military-grade Cryptochip generates unique advanced encryption standard (AES) keys that are securely stored on the drive’s hardware. Data traveling between the computer and the drive moves fast (30MBPS read/20MBPS write) and is secured using an encrypted USB channel.

The Password Manager (PM), helps protect against threats such as phishing and keyloggers. It hardware-encrypts passwords, credit card numbers, and addresses rather than using a computer-based password file. When passwords are entered automatically thereafter, it can protect against keyloggers. Further, by allowing the user to log into previously specified URLs, this USB drive can help customers avoid phony Web sites.

While online, users have the option to back up their IK files, which are then stored on an IK server. Some users might consider this a security risk, but the company says it works hard to ensure the security of stored data. Customers access IK’s online database using RSA 2048-bit public key cryptography. 

Pros. The drive loads relatively fast. Few drives in its price range have as many privacy-protecting features. Its hardware-based encryption precludes the use of additional software. 

Cons. The onboard browser takes about twice as long to start as computer-based equivalents and runs slightly slower. This reviewer found it challenging to eject the drive in a manner that Windows deemed secure.

Where to get it. The Standard Edition can be purchased online. One GB, 2GB, and 4GB models cost $79, $109, and $149, respectively. The available Special Edition, intended for military and other high-restricted environments, is similarly priced but lacks software to access external networks.

 

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