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Worth a Look: Portable Data Safes

It seems that it wasn’t all that long ago that I got my first USB thumb drive. It provided a tiny 16 MB of storage space. I now have a drawer full of thumb drives; the newest one has a whopping 2 GB of storage. As they’ve moved toward ubiquity, thumb drives have also begun to incorporate advanced security measures. Here is a look at two new secure drives.

At the top of the ClipDrive Bio from Memory Experts International is an AuthenTec fingerprint sensor. Five users can register a total of ten fingerprints that can be used to provide authentication and access to any data stored in secure partitions (there is also a common directory for shared files).

Software that’s built into the drive provides encryption, an e-wallet function for storing credit card numbers, and single sign-on to applications and Web sites. Data is encrypted using 256-bit AES encryption. A 4-to-40-character password is optional.

You’ll need administrator rights to get the software running, at least for now (there are plans for this to change in the future). But the control panel is remarkably user-friendly and functions are easily started. For example, for single sign-on, if you type your username and password onto a Web site, you’ll be asked if you’d like to save that information to the drive.

Another secure storage device is the Data Traveler Elite from Kingston Technology. Data stored on the device is protected with 128-bit encryption secured by a strong password (that is, it requires a mix of upper- and lower-case letters as well as numerals and special characters). The Data Traveler will lock out attackers after a number of consecutive failed password attempts, thus thwarting a brute-force attack; users have the option of giving themselves a hint in case they forget. This might be a good idea since once the device is locked for good, the data on it is lost forever.

The Data Traveler Elite allows you to synchronize folders and files. For example, you can link the My Documents folder on your computer to one on the USB drive, so that any changes are made in both places. Like the Clip Drive, you’ll need administrator rights to get the unit configured and your password set up. However, downloadable software from Kingston gives nonadministrative users the rights to use these options.

Pros. For the ClipDrive Bio, the advanced functions are very easy to understand and use, and the fingerprint sensor worked as promised. The unit is shipped with a companion drive that uses the same software but does not include a fingerprint sensor.

The Kingston drive has fewer options, but if your concern is to protect data while on the move, it’s more than up to the task.

Cons. The most critical problem with the ClipDrive is that the single sign-on works only for Internet Explorer, not Firefox so future versions may have more flexibility. That’s practically a deal-breaker for me, though the company says that it’s researching an engine for use with Firefox.

And security does not come cheap, although the ClipDrive comes with some useful additional items, including a docking station, a handy leather-like holder, and a cleaning cloth for the sensor. The DataTraveler options require some free additional software downloads, making setup a bit cumbersome.

Where to get them. You can find the ClipDrive at a few online shops. They start at $99 for the 64MB units (for comparison, a 256 MB flash drive without the bells and whistles can be had for about $20) and go up to more than $800 for 2 GB units.

Kingston’s Web site offers links to authorized resellers of the DataTraveler Elite. The 2 GB unit I tested starts at about $170; add at least $100 for another two GB of storage.