If security to you means 256-bit hardware encryption keys, 256-bit SHA hashing, self destruction after 10 failed password attempts, and much much more, stop reading and purchase this USB drive immediately. If however, you like what was just described and are suddenly curious, keep reading. (Check out a video of the IK features here)
The Ironkey Personal S200 is touted as “The World’s Most Secure Flash Drive ” and with good reason. Sporting a rugged metal exterior shell and a epoxy filled interior, Ironkeys are protected against physical damage and attempts to physically break into the device itself. The Ironkey uses hardware based encryption to avoid attempts by malware to extract any data. So how exactly does this all transfer into real life, everyday use?
This review focuses on the Personal S200 version of the Ironkey which utilizes SLC flash memory versus MLC. SLC flash is not only faster, but can be read and written many times more than MLC memory (which is the flash memory typically used in consumer USB sticks unless otherwise stated.) The S200 also has an shiny metallic finish versus the Ironkey D200′s gray shell. The largest S200 drive is 16GB, where the largest D200 is 32GB’s of storage space. Besides these differences, the S200 and D200 are otherwise identical.
The biggest concern that arises with these USB drives is the price. With the cheapest (1GB) S200 running $79.00 USD retail, and $59.00 USD for a D200, price does become a natural concern for most. With the amount of features packed into the Ironkey, it is relatively easy to justify the premium price. The flash memory and other electronic components used in the S200 are designed to last much longer and perform consistently compared to any other consumer USB drives. Ironkey go through the washer? Dropped from your hand? Not a problem as it’s sealed and well enclosed. Loose or misplace the drive? When plugged into a computer, a popup window appears that can be customized with your name, phone #, email, or any other information that can help others get your drive returned to you. I have mine set up with my name, phone #, email, and a “Reward Offered” line, to further assist in a possibly recovery in case of loss or theft. Even if you permanently loose the Ironkey, the advanced encryption will keep any hackers or thieves away from your sensitive data.
I have personally used the Ironkey for several weeks now on both PC’s and Mac’s, desktops and laptops. Besides a small weight and size difference from other USB drives, my workflow between computers was not affected or altered. After plugging in the drive you are prompted to enter your password and are given options to view the files, open the control panel, open files in ‘read only’ mode, or login to the secure Ironkey site. Password authorization takes a few seconds, but after that it acts just like a normal flash drive, simply drag files in or out of the folder. Note that at this point viruses and malware can also read your files when the drive is “unlocked”. If the Ironkey is left without any activity for a predetermined amount of time, it can be set to automatically lock itself.
Besides having military grade encryption to secure my files, the other feature that interested me was the “Secure Sessions” browsing feature. A ‘secure’ copy of Firefox is pre-installed on the IK, with several other security features added on. Note that the Firefox Secure Browsing only currently works with Windows; as an occasional Mac OS user I really hope to see this fixed in the near future. Once launched, the Secure Sessions connected to Ironkey’s secure private servers around the world to protect you from targeted ad’s and tracking. In addition the browsing is encrypted meaning you can use it on unsecured wifi networks while still having secure, private browsing. Basically it’s a smaller, private version of the TOR network.
So is the Ironkey worth the price? In honesty that’s the wrong question to ask, rather, can you afford to loose your data or have it stolen? If the answer is no, this is one of the best options. No it’s not a cheap product, especially in today’s market, but because it’s so secure (and useless to coworkers or friends who “borrow” flash drives and never return them) and useless to anyone without the password this *could* be the last flash drive you ever purchase. Alternatively there are other free encryption alternatives that can be made to work on any USB drive (mainly TrueCrypt), you may want to check into that before dropping cash on an IK. In the meantime I’ll sleep well knowing that my data is safe and secure inside the IronKey.
Have a question that I didn’t answer? Leave a comment below!