Review: Self-Encrypting External Hard Disk Drives

When evaluating secure, external, portable, hard-drives for yourself, the fundamental question is do you want a hardware- or a software-based device?

iStorage disk Genie

The iStorage disk Genie feels like a really good product.  It’s sturdy, it has a hard, black, rubber case and big, easy to press, manual buttons.  The buttons are the only interface for this device, there is no screen to issue instructions or to indicate status, but when successfully connected to a computer, a single LED turns from red to green.

The iStorage disk Genie adheres to its clean design by keeping the interface simple too.  It allows you to change or add passwords for up to ten different users.  And while you may not have functions displayed on a screen, features can be controlled from the administrator mode which is easy to enter, simply hold down the two set buttons.  The multiple users feature is intriguing; we thought it could be really useful to be able to set different user accounts for a device in a general office-type use scenario.  We set up 2 distinct user accounts in addition to the administrator account.  After logging in as each user a folder was created for each user containing a simple text document to see what was accessible when logged in as another user. it was slightly disappointing to discover that  all documents could be read and accessed regardless of login.  We had hoped to only see files for the logged in user. Unfortunately, under this arrangement you may as well just give all users the default password to save the administration burden.  On the positive side, however, each user would be able to simply use their own password instead of having to learn a new one.

The password length can be anything between six and 16 characters, the only time the device will intervene is if the password does not fit this criteria. 

The disk Genie is very easy to use, simplicity is a feature of its appeal.  There is less to go wrong and it feels as though the designers have genuinely thought through what is really needed to securely transport data and how setup pain can be minimised for the user.

The large buttons give you a solid confirmation of each press and are easy to press.  The built-in USB cable saves having to find one, which is actually a pretty handy feature, we all know how easy it is to lose or forget them.

The iStorage disk Genie comes in 128 or 256 bit AES encryption.  We had the 256 bit version under test. 

After every six wrong password attempts the drive locks and powers down.  To recover from this you need to unplug the USB cable and reconnect to the computer.  After 50 unsuccessful attempts the keypad will lock completely, unplugging it from the computer is no longer enough.  By following the recovery steps in the accompanying user manual you can gain a further 50 attempts. After this the device forces a reset and the drive is formatted with all data lost.  As with all the other drives, you can now set up the device from factory settings.

The iStorage disk Genie is probably our favourite device under test.  It is simple, offering all the protection that you really need, and not a lot of extra peripheral functionality.  Our primary concern with the product is that a total of 100 brute force attempts are possible before forcing a reset.  Despite the number of possible password combinations available this is still a very small opportunity, but it does give an attacker considerably more chances than most.

Tags information securityreviewData Locker DL3CMS ABS Plus with DataguardCMS ABS Plus FDEencrypted hard disk drivesiStorage disk GenieEclypt FreedomData Locker Enterprise

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