Recently I reviewed the 16GB Secure USB BT secure USB drive from Secure Data. It’s an interesting device, and being able to lock/unlock it via Bluetooth is extremely cool. Needing to have your phone with you to use your USB stick isn’t always convenient, though, so when Secure Data asked if I wanted to review another product I decided to give the SecureUSB KP a try. It’s similar to the BT, but instead of a Bluetooth app on your phone, it has a built-in keypad. To unlock it, you punch in your PIN. I was curious to see whether it was more or less convenient than the Bluetooth option.
The Sample Unit
Secure Data provided me with an 8GB version of the keypad drive. It’s available in the same capacities as the BT model, and the USB specs are identical. From a USB perspective it’s same drive, just with a different security setup.
Just as with the Bluetooth drive, I’ll be sending this one back when I’m done.
- Capacity: 4 GB – 128 GB
- Data transfer speed: Up to 130 MB per second read. Up to 43MB per second write
- Security Module Validation: FIPS 140-2 Level-3 (certification pending)
- Authentication method: Keypad
- Authentication mode: User Authentication onboard Keypad
- Interface: USB 3.0/3.1
- Cryptographic Processes: AES-XTS 256 Bit Hardware Encryption (OS independent)
- Data Protection: Real time military grade AES – XTS 256-bit Full-Disk
- Waterproof: IP57 (Certification Pending)
- Tamper-proof: FIPS 140-2 Level 3 Compliant Design
- Brute-force defense: Data destruction after 10 consecutive incorrect PIN entry attempts
- Immune to Bad USB: Yes, no firware updates allowed
- Roles/Permissions: 1 Admin / 1 User
- Read Only Mode: Yes
- Inactivity Autolock: Yes, predefined times between 0 and 60 minutes
- OS Compatability: Microsoft, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome, Thin Clients, Embedded Systems (No software or drivers needed)
- Regulatory Approvals: FCC, CE
- Warranty: 3 Year (limited)
The first thing you notice about this drive (other than the keypad) is the size. While it’s the same width as the BT model, it’s almost twice as long. That’s to accommodate the keypad. It was clearly a balancing act for Secure Data to find a relatively normal-looking size while still having a usable keypad. making the keypad any smaller would have probably made typing your code less than pleasant. It’s not the largest USB drive I’ve used, but it’s up there.
Still, while it’s in its aluminum case it’s an attractive, pocket-sized device.
Speaking of the case, the one gripe I had with the Bluetooth drive was that the case didn’t fit well, and the rubber gasket bulged out. Not true with this unit.
The case slides on smoothly and closes cleanly.
Not sure if it’s a random issue with the drives, or I was just unlucky with the BT unit. But this one had no problems with fit.
Once out of the case, the keypad makes it painfully obvious this is a secure drive. While the BT unit looks like any other flash drive, this one screams “sooper dooper extra security”. I doubt a thief would give the BT drive a second glance, but this one might be tempting. A flash drive with a keypad must have something on it worth stealing.
But you can’t have it both ways, so if you want a keypad to unlock the drive, you’re going to give up some space.
My first thought when I saw the keypad and its LEDs was that there had to be a battery powering them. That raised the question of battery life. I checked with Secure Data and they confirmed the drive has a Lithium-Ion Polymer Battery ( 3.7v 38mAH) that powers the LEDs and buttons. It’s rechargeable and charges whenever the drive is plugged in.
I then asked about longevity. Batteries don’t last forever, and with something like a flash drive, you don’t want to end up losing your data because of a bad battery.
They responded that the battery can be recharged “more than 500 times from 100% to 0% to 100% (full cycle).” And they told me the battery loses only about 0.1% voltage per month. Since it’s charging whenever it’s plugged in, that means it will rarely if ever go all the way to 0%. The expected life is “at least several years”. Plus, it comes with a 3 year warranty, so you’re covered for at least that long.
Unlocking the drive is simple: press the key button, enter your PIN, press the key button again. You now have 30 seconds to insert the drive into your system. If you do, it will function exactly as any USB drive. If you don’t, it will automatically lock again.
Incidentally, I was curious about how long it takes the drive to lock when it’s removed from the computer. As far as I could tell, it was instantaneous. There was no delay that I could see. When the drive is removed from the USB port, it is immediately secured. I also learned the hard way that if you reboot your computer, the drive automatically locks.
The LEDs tell you the state of the drive at any given time.
This is done with a simple set of icons to show when the drive is locked or unlocked, ready for a PIN, etc.
Unplugging the drive automatically locks it. It’s also possible to lock it while it’s still plugged in by holding the key button down until the lock icon appears.
There is an option to have an administrator PIN on the drive as well as a USER PIN. That makes this drive a good fit for businesses, where there could be multiple drives in play.
As this is essentially the same USB 3.0/3.1 drive as the Bluetooth version, it performs equally well. I saw no need to run benchmarks. You can refer to the results for the Bluetooth drive if you’re curious.
Like with the BT model, I used this as my primary USB stick for a couple of weeks. I experienced no malfunctions, issues, or glitches. The drive worked exactly as advertised every time. The keypad is small, but not so small that it was difficult to type my PIN. And since I used the default PIN, I had no worries about forgetting it.
Unlike the BT model, I didn’t have the issue of accidentally locking the drive when I walked away from my computer. Unfortunately that also meant that I left my desk on multiple occasions and forgot to secure the drive. It’s just a question of whether I want automatic security or to handle it myself, and this taught me I need to get better at it.
One thing I found was I became more stingy about unplugging the drive. Knowing I’d have to enter the PIN again to unlock it meant I left it plugged in unless I absolutely needed to take it out. It’s funny sometimes how much effort I’m willing to put into not working too hard.
Keypad vs. Bluetooth
I was surprised to find that I prefer the keypad method to Bluetooth. The Bluetooth drive is cool and “techy”, but I found the keypad to be more functional and usable. I definitely like the idea of not having to rely on my phone for security. And while I’m not a huge fan of having to remember an extra PIN, I’d still rather get used to that than have the drive tethered to my phone.
I can see a strong business market for devices like this. Transferring sensitive business data on USB can be risky, so a secure solution is something a lot of companies will be interested in. The option of an admin PIN means a company can deploy these to employees and not have to worry about forgotten PINs.
I still can’t honestly say I have a personal need for something like this. If my choice is paying a premium for a secure USB drive or just not using USB for my data, I’d probably go with the non-USB option. I’m cheap like that.
Paying for Security
Speaking of paying a premium, all the space-aged encryption and cool features of this drive don’t come cheap. The 8GB stick I tested costs$89, so you’re really paying for your security. Not cheap, but if you need it bad enough, you’re probably willing to pay for it.
SecureData knows what they’re doing with these secure drives, and this USB drives strikes a nice balance of functionality and aesthetics. I didn’t expect to like this USB stick as much as the Bluetooth model, but after using it for a while I realized I prefer a keypad to an app on my phone. I don’t mind the larger size, or the keypad telling the world I’ve got something important on it. The drive is simple to use, reliable, and most importantly, secure. The only drawback is the price; you pay a premium for all that tech. But if security is important to you and you need it on a thumb drive, this is a great way to go!