Portable drives that protect your data

USB flash drives are ideal for transporting large quantities of data, but they have a knack for getting lost. Luckily, several new models are designed to protect data. Here are a few.

The CryptoStick by CryptoBuddy (US$180 for 1GB) uses the secure Blowfish algorithm to encrypt files. A utility for caching your Web browsing history on the CryptoStick prevents others from checking the hard drive to see what sites you’ve visited — useful when you surf on PCs you don’t own. The company says that its encryption software can also compress some data by a factor of three, freeing up precious memory-key space, but your real-world compression results will vary depending on the content you encrypt. A free file-decryption tool on CryptoBuddy’s Web site lets you send encrypted files to people who don’t own a CryptoStick. Physically, this drive is the sturdiest model I’ve seen, but its relatively high price might put some people off.

Kanguru has two offerings with impressive capabilities: the Micro Drive AES (US$130 for 1GB) and Bio Drive (US$220 for 1GB).The oval Micro Drive AES (for Advanced Encryption Standard, a tough form of encryption) can scramble data on the drive and secure your PC. To lock down the system, just remove the drive from the USB port. The rectangular, pricey Bio Drive, which includes a biometric fingerprint reader, resembles a pocket voice recorder; a copper-coloured finger-scanner hides beneath a removable black plastic lip. When biometric protection is enabled, the drive encrypts the data and then hides the data partition until you log in with a fingerprint.

Cruzer Profile Biometric (US$102 for 1GB) from SanDisk offers the best value in this group. It encrypts data and has a fingerprint reader that provides biometric security for that data and for Windows. Using a text password or your fingerprint as the key, you can encrypt individual files or the entire storage area. You can also use your fingerprint instead of a typed password to log in to Windows.

The Cruzer Profile Biometric’s memory chip and USB connector are built into one half of the device; the fingerprint reader is built into the other half. A thick, shielded cable attached to each half connects the two, even when you pull them apart to expose the USB connector and the scanner. While making the unit more compact, this slightly increases the risk of mechanical failure. But if the fingerprint reader becomes detached, you can still use the text password to access your data.

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