|Introduction and Features|
Data. Can't live with it, can't live without it. We're sure you can all understand why we can't live without it, but you may be curious why we say we can't live with it. The problem with data is not the data itself but rather the users of that data. More accurately, we should say that the real problem (or challenge or opportunity, depending on your perspective) is the protection of and access to that data. A fine line exists between providing authorized users simple, unencumbered access to sensitive personal or company data and keeping unauthorized eyes from seeing that same data.
In a personal setting, data protection may not be much of a concern to you, but with identity theft so prevalent today, an increasing number of people are trying to secure the data they keep on storage devices. In a corporate setting, the threat of sensitive data getting in the wrong hands is very serious. That threat comes in many forms, from hacking to lost data (usually in the form of misplaced or stolen PDAs, laptops and USB flash drives). Hacking is something that companies try to stop at the perimeter and monitor for internally. Physical loss of technology devices that help users do their jobs is a different kind of challenge, though.
Information technology (IT) departments can tell their customers to not to put the company's sensitive data on CDs, local hard drives or flash drives all day long everyday, but that's not going to stop it from happening. Additionally, IT departments can utilize whole-disk encryption to ensure that a lost laptop is exponentially tougher to extract data from than one without encryption, but that doesn't stop a user from putting a top secret marketing plan on an unencrypted flash drive.
One possible solution to the flash drive dilemma hit our labs last week in the form of Corsair's new Flash Padlock, which is a PIN-protected USB flash drive. Intrigued? So were we, which is why we are bringing you this article today. Before you can access the data on this drive, you have to enter a personal identification number, or PIN. It sounds like a clever solution, but does it work? Join us as we seek to answer that question and to see if the Flash Padlock makes it a little easier to live with with data.
Although the Flash Padlock is one of the most unique flash drives we've come across, its packaging is fairly standard. Like most other USB flash drives, it comes in a standard plastic blister pack. We don't like that type of packaging any more than the next guy, but it seems to be a necessary evil.
Inside the blister pack, Corsair includes a USB extension cable, a lanyard and a user manual. Most flash drives don't really require instructions, but the Flash Padlock definitely needs a manual. We don't take good documentation for granted, so we are pleased to see that Corsair does a good job of explaining how to use the Flash Padlock.
|Inspecting and Using the Flash Padlock|
As you know by now, the Flash Padlock isn't your ordinary flash drive, and to that effect, it certainly doesn't look like any other flash drive we've seen. For starters, it has a combination keypad across the top. It also features an unlocked icon that has a green LED behind it and a locked icon that has a red LED behind it.
Even when not plugged in, the Flash Padlock's status indicators will flash to indicate the state (locked or unlocked) of the drive. You may wonder how this is possible. Well, the Flash Padlock is powered by a 3V lithium battery.
Another aspect that makes the Flash Padlock not your ordinary flash drive is its size. In this case, we're talking about physical size not storage capacity. By today's flash standards, the Flash Padlock is a giant. As you can see in the two pictures above, the Flash Padlock is quite a bit larger than the Kingston DataTraveler that we recently featured in our flash drive round-up article. Considering its size, you may have thought it had at least eight or 16 gigabytes of storage, but at the time of this writing, the Flash Padlock was only available in 1GB and 2GB flavors. Its size is definitely what we like the least about this drive, but it was necessary to accomodate the buttons and additional electronics.
The step-by-step instructions in the manual do a very good job of clearly explaining how to use the Flash Padlock, including how to set up a PIN, unlock the drive, and set up a new PIN. During our experience of actually using the Flash Padlock so far, we have experienced no problems with the drive whatsoever. It has performed as advertised and described.
Before setting a PIN, we plugged in the drive to see what would happen. Because it was unlocked and had no PIN set, it behaved just like any other USB flash drive. There's not much point in having this drive and not using the security, right? After following the instructions to establish our PIN, the drive was locked. At this point, we went ahead and plugged in the drive in its locked state just to see what it would do and to make sure the data on it wasn't accessible. We were pleased to see that the PC didn't even know a USB drive had been plugged in after we inserted the Flash Padlock into a USB port on our test system. The drive was completely inaccessible, and its red locked LED indicator shined brightly.
Next, we unplugged the locked Padlock from our PC and proceeded to unlock it, which is as simple as pushing the key button, punching in the PIN, and pushing the key button again. The drive is then unlocked, and you have approximately 15 seconds to plug the drive into a USB port. If you do not plug it in within 15 seconds, it will automatically lock itself. So, we unlocked the drive and plugged it in. The behavior is just like any other flash drive you are accustomed to at this point. You use the drive and then safely remove it when you are done. After removing the Flash Padlock, its auto-locking feature will secure the drive in about 15 seconds.
Overall, we are quite pleased with how Corsair implemented the Flash Padlock's security. It's a simple and slick hardware-based solution for protecting your data. Additionally, the security is quite flexible, considering that your PIN can be one to 10 digits. Even though there are only five buttons to enter your PIN, the Flash Padlock still allows for millions of possible PINs, which greatly discourages someone from trying to guess your PIN.
Sure, the security may be innovative and good, but if the performance isn't there, users just won't be excited to accept another change in many cases (unless you threaten their next paycheck of course). We ran the Flash Padlock through some basic tests to see how well it performs. Our testing was performed on an HP 2510p with Windows Vista loaded.
The Sandra test measures performance in operations per minute rather than megabytes per second. Different file sizes are tested, and then the results are graphed. In the test result below, the 2GB Corsair Flash Padlock is the red line.
The Flash Padlock is not the slowest drive we've tested, but it's definitely not the fastest either. Corsair's own 8GB Voyager GT, one of the fastest flash drives we've ever tested, posted a Combined Index score almost three times that of the Flash Padlock. This isn't too surprising, considering that the Flash Padlock wasn't designed to be a speed demon.
The Sandra scores may not mean much to you, so we also performed some real-world data transfer tests. We tested the Flash Padlock's write and read speeds. In order to test the write speed, we performed three different data copies from our laptop's hard drive to the Flash Padlock. Then, to test the drive's read speed, we cut and pasted those same files from the Padlock to the laptop's hard drive. We timed all of the data transfers and recorded elapsed time.
We took the transfer time results and translated those into transfer rates (MB/s). In the tables below, you can see the number of files, total size, time, and calculated transfer rate for all of our tests.
These results reveal that the Flash Padlock actually is not very fast compared to most of the drives we've tested recently. The 202MB test, which included only one file, looks pretty good for both read and write speeds, but the other two test results don't impress.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: After using the Flash Padlock for the last several days, we have been quite pleased with its performance in regards to security. We feel very confident that our data is safe when its stored on the Padlock. On the other hand, the performance in regards to transfer rates left something to be desired.
We like it when we see companies use simple tools, like combination locks and PINs, to provide good solutions to complex problems, like keeping data safe. Corsair designed the Flash Padlock to protect data, and we feel it does that well. The drive performed as expected every time. What it lacks in speed, it more than makes up for in security.
One other thing we like about the Flash Padlock is the PIN registration and recovery web site that Corsair designed for Padlock users. Hopefully, users will actually utilize this free service to help reduce the chance of ending up with an unusable Flash Padlock.
In addition to the Padlock's transfer rate performance, the two other aspects we'd like to see Corsair improve upon are the drive's large physical size and its relatively small capacity. It's more than twice as big physically as many of our favorite flash drives, but it is only available with 1GB or 2GB of storage space. Fortunately, the 2GB version is only around $30. Still, we hope Corsair releases larger capacity Padlocks soon.
With that said, we still would strongly recommend the Corsair Flash Padlock to anyone who wants a simple way to protect his or her data from prying eyes.