This article arose from a subscriber inquiry about secure thumb drives. If you're not familiar with thumb drives, these are flash memory storage devices about the size of your thumb, thus the name. They hold between 8mbs to several gigs of data depending on the model. What's appealing about these devices is you can plug one into a computer's USB port and use the device like a hard drive. These devices can be indispensable for people who need to move data between computers.
At first, I thought the need for secure thumb drives was minimal. But, the inquiry prompted me to ask people how they used their thumb drives. During the month, I queried 20 users. Except for one computer technician, everyone had valuable data on their thumb drive. By valuable, I mean data that was either personal or confidential.
In all these cases, the users had not considered protecting the data. These people had information ranging from marketing plans to customer databases on these devices. Like many users, they focused on convenience and cost, but not security. After all, no one plans to lose a thumb drive. And few people ask what would happen if the data landed in the wrong hands. Although my survey wasn't scientific, it showed that most people don't think about data protection.
One way to protect the data is with biometrics. Biometrics is a way of authenticating someone based on biological characteristics such as fingerprints, voice, retina and so on. To help in our product search, we asked a friend whose firm relies on biometrics to authenticate financial transactions. Although he wasn't familiar with thumb drive manufactures, he recommended the AuthenTec biometric chipset. This led us to the ClipDrive Bio made by Memory Experts International.
ClipDrive Bio makes a series of thumb drives with built in fingerprint scanners. Each thumb drive contains two partitions. The first partition is public and is visible when the drive is plugged into a USB port. The second partition is secure and hidden until the user is verified by their fingerprint. To gain access to this partition, the scanned fingerprint must match one stored in the hidden partition. The database can also contain fingerprints from multiple users.
Our first question about the device concerned the setup process. We knew if the set up were complicated, people would forgo the security feature. We were pleased to find the set up process quick and easy. The PDF instructions provided useful tips such as authenticating more than one finger on each hand. This tip proved useful as the next computer I plugged the device into positioned the USB port on the opposite side. And for those hard to reach ports, a USB extension cord is provided.
The most noticeable difference of this drive is the square fingerprint scanner located to the right. Although very small, it properly recognized my fingerprints and prevented access to unregistered testers. Another difference, although not obvious from appearances, is the ClipDrive Bio devices support both USB 2.0 and USB 1.1. Other thumb drives we've used support only USB 1.1, which transfers data at a slower rate.
The design is striking with its contrasting colors. Unlike most thumb drives we've seen, the ClipDrive Bio is a 1-piece construction with a retractable USB plug. Rather than pulling a cap off, you push the yellow part toward the scanner to reveal the USB. No more worrying about losing the protective cap or damaging the USB. Each time I saw a new tester mistakenly pull the ends instead of push, I held my breath fearing the device would break. My worries were unwarranted as the device withstood these impromptu stress tests.
Overall, we were very impressed by the device and felt confident that if we lost the ClipDrive Bio, our data would be safe from prying eyes. The biggest drawback to any secure device is the cost. Security devices are always more expensive than conventional devices. So, the question you need to ask is how conventional is your data? If you're merely moving MP3 files around, this device doesn't make sense. However, if you're like most of the users I surveyed, you have a need to have confidential or personal data on a thumb drive. In this case, the cost premium is well worth knowing your data is secure.
- 64MB = $99.99
- 128MB = $126.99
- 256MB = $139.99
Related ArticlesHow to Password Protect Your USB Drive
Last Updated (Saturday, 19 June 2010 10:24)