What a nifty, brilliant device! That’s my first reaction when I opened up the nonretail packaging that Apricorn sent it in. On the outside it is rather nondescript but when you pull the cover off it looks like a mini Fort Knox with three LEDs, 10 buttons for inputting your pin number and a slightly larger button with a key symbol on it.
Is this the most secure USB key? Well, let’s put in the default pin to get started and let’s find out.
We have reviewed quite a few USB drives, starting 10 years ago when they were still an exciting novelty, including a few that came with encryption. Then this whole category became so obnoxiously prevalent that there was no way in the world you could hold a reader’s attention for a review. The only times when USB keys were in the news was when some high-up dude lost one with all sorts of sensitive information on it.
Well, these days most everyone has a need to protect data, particularly when travelling. Apricorn has been supplying the market for quite some time already with a number of encrypted drives, including ones with keypads or biometric security. This is the latest one. The device itself is dust and water resistant, made from durable aluminium housing covered by tough epoxy coating which should prevent a potential hacker from accessing the encryption circuitry.
The outer skin is black with slightly rubbery exterior which gives a secure grip when you’re trying to manipulate the rather small buttons.
What You Can’t See
I hate to serve it up to you so early in the review but there is some gibberish we need to talk about first which makes this device as valuable as it is. It uses a military grade 256 bit AES CBC hardware encryption. If you know what that means you can skip this paragraph. All it really means in dummy terms is that no one can mess around with your data unless you write your unique pin on the back of this device. Or when you’re being waterboarded into giving your torturers the access code…
The key to your data has to be a 7 to 15 digit pin (you can also type in a word which is easier to remember) but if you lose your pin you have basically nine more tries before it explodes and self-destructs. Well, not quite that dramatic but your data is indeed lost if you can’t get it right within 10 attempts to enter your correct pin. All you can do then is to reset the device and set up a new pin. So make the pin something you can remember easily as long as it is not a series of repeating or any sequential numbers.
Here is another good bit: there is no software required and the Aegis Secure Key is ready right out of the box. It comes with the factory default pin which is: nah, I’d better not tell you even though it is in the documentation and freely available on the net. Anyways, you put in these digits and then you have 30 seconds to plug it into a USB port. All the while there are red, blue and green LEDs flashing for the various sequences. It is important to follow the simple guidelines on the Quick Start Guide.
However… (This is the puzzling bit)
The sequence to set up a new pin did not work. I followed the instructions religiously several times and finally had to resort to resetting the whole drive before I could enter my own pin. The problem seems to be when you have to press and hold the key button for three seconds. This will not result in the red and green LED to come on together solidly but they will keep flashing alternatively…. I also tried varying the three second time to no avail. I sent off a quick e-mail to Apricorn (always handy when you know these guys!) and this is what they mentioned: “…it seems that as you were sent one of the very first units, you may have received a manual that needed a couple of updates. Basically, the directions missed a couple of key presses. As soon as we became aware of the issue, we updated the manual shipping in the box and put the latest one on our website.”
At least the one you’ll be buying will have the updated manual!
The rest is stock standard easy as it just is a USB drive, after all…
There is much to like in this latest product from Apricorn. Its main claim to fame is the extremely high security that is implemented in the smallest possible form factor. As soon as you unplug it from a USB port it goes into lockdown mode and you will have to re-enter your pin. Even if you put your computer to sleep and leave your Secure Key in the USB port, the auto lock feature will prevent access unless you first put in your pin again. You can use this USB key with any operating system and without having to install any drivers. It’s only USB 2.0, not the much faster 3.0, but the data transfer rates are around 25 MB per second for read or write, so it’s not too shabby.
The Aegis Secure Key is available in three different capacities: 4, 8 and 16 GB. Pricing is $65, 95 and $125 respectively. Check some of the following retailers for your best deal: CDW, Buy.com, Amazon, eCost, Zones, MacMall, PCMall, Provantage, Softchoice, PC Connection and a few others like Newegg and Dell having the Secure Key in a few weeks.
More info at the source: www.apricorn.com/securekey
And if you like Apricorn products (we certainly do!) stay tuned for our next review of a product which hasn’t been launched yet.
All I can say is that you can’t get too far wrong if you assume all of the following ingredients: encryption, keypads, high speed and plenty capacity!