Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2007

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON 

The World’s Most Secure Flash Drive. It says so right on the box. Ah, the USB flash drive, the little marvel that instantly closed the door on the floppy disk forever and is making rewritable CDs a thing of the past. You have a flash drive, don’t you? I have four.

The first was “Plan B” and mandatory equipment at any of the MSBA conferences. If a laptop didn’t cooperate or a presentation needed to be moved from one PC to another it was a fast and easy way to turn a problem into a solution. Thus, my first flash drive was dubbed “The Life Saver”. It was a whopping 128 megs of gadget goodness. Who could ask for anything more?

Well, since then I’ve expanded my collection and now have a small menagerie of drives, each with a different purpose and larger capacity. Each one has grown progressively larger as my needs and door-buster sales have presented themselves. There are flash drives that are built into pens and look like poker chips. They come in every color under the sun, and you can carry a gig of data around in your pocket for about $10. I was happily surprised when I purchased a flash drive and discovered preloaded software to encrypt data on the drive and compress the files so that you can maximize the storage space available.

Ah, security. It made me realize just what I was carrying on the drive and how important it was. Also, losing it for three days also reminded me to have a proper backup solution as well (I found it in the couch cushions). Of course, if you actually loose it and you have a backup of your data, that is only half a solution and/or problem. If you did lose your drive, who has it now? Is your data protected? If it is, can it be hacked or cracked or bypassed?

The problem with most security software you might buy for a flash drive is that you have to use it for it to work. Well, duh, you might think, but what I mean is that, if you want to protect your data, you would need to open the security program and have it write the file to the flash drive. What we really want to do is just drag and drop that sucker to the device and be done with it. Well, now you can.

The IronKey is very different. Security isn’t an optional extra on this drive. It is built into the very core of the design. At its heart is military-grade hardware encryption contained in a rugged metal shell that can withstand just about anything you can throw at it.

With this device, security is simple. When you take your IronKey out of the box and plug it into your PC (or Mac), it will ask you for a password. Once this is set, you can begin using your IronKey like any other flash drive. Drag and drop files into or out of the IronKey using your regular file manager. Anything going in is encrypted and anything taken out is unencrypted. The file protection is hardware encryption that cannot be disabled, and it is always on. One of the first things I did was to update the “Lost and Found” address with my info. This will show up on the IronKey login page whenever it is first connected to a computer.

The Device

Normally, when you get a new device you want to test out all the features, but in this case that would be a bad idea. Once your data goes in, it isn’t coming back out without your say so. If you enter a wrong password more than 10 times, the encryption chip is disabled permanently (think of it as a self-destruct mechanism). The device can’t be fixed, restored or reset. It is gone. But not forgotten. Included in the IronKey is a backup manager that will allow you to restore your information onto a new IronKey. So, let’s get to some of the other features that make the IronKey different from your garden variety flash drive.

Beneath the metal shell the interior of the unit is filled with epoxy-based potting compound that keeps anyone from getting to internal hardware and makes it both tamperproof and waterproof beyond military standards. This feature might be handier than you think. I found one of my USB drives in the laundry basket; it still worked, but at least with the IronKey you won’t be chanting, “Oh please, oh please, oh please,” while connecting it to your computer.

Passwords

You can have your IronKey create and remember strong passwords for you, automatically log into your online accounts with a click of a button, and back up and restore your passwords so you are never without them.
The IronKey will remember all your usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and addresses encrypted on the device, and with the one-click login feature there are no keystrokes to capture with hidden key logger programs. Its ability to generate strong passwords is a must to lock down all your online accounts.

Web Browsing

With an onboard version of the Firefox web browser, you can safely and securely browse the Internet without leaving behind cache data, bookmarks or other information on the computer from which you are browsing.

The IronKey is a bit more expensive that then other off-the-shelf devices, but if you have valuable data of a personal nature, the IronKey will ensure that that data stays secure.
For more information, visit the IronKey website at www.ironkey.com.

 
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Publications : Bar Bulletin: December 2007