Flash drive encrypts and controls data chaos

GCN Lab review: Kingston's DataTraveler BlackBox packs 8 gigabytes of encrypted storage into its tiny frame

GCN Lab review

Performance: B-

Ease of use: A

Features: A+

Value: A

Price: $485

Pros: Powerful encryption, go-anywhere, rugged, sleek design

Cons: Slow file transfer speeds

The Kingston DataTraveler BlackBox, a lightweight USB flash drive, made me feel a little like Agent 99 on a mission.

One of the things I admired about Agent 99 on Get Smart ' both the old TV show and recent movie ' was her way with elegant multitasking gadgets. No clumsy shoe phones for her; Agent 99 always had lipsticks that she could turn into weapons, or shirt buttons that could double as antidotes in case she and Max were poisoned.

About three inches long and an inch thick, the DataTraveler BlackBox is smaller than a lipgloss. In fact, I had trouble finding it in my purse when I tossed it in the side pocket with a bunch of pens. Forget military specs ' the BlackBox is one rugged device if it can stand up to the rough-and-tumble chaos of my purse, which it did.

The sleek black unit packs 8 gigabytes of encrypted storage into its tiny frame. It's Federal Information Processing Standard 140-2 Level 2 certified and features 256-bit, hardware-based Advanced Encryption Standard encryption and password protection. The BlackBox is also waterproof and has a five-year warranty.

Most dramatically, however, after 10 invalid password attempts the BlackBox reformats the drive, effectively nuking your data but leaving the drive unharmed. If the BlackBox was lost or stolen, data thieves would get an 8-gigabyte storage device but they wouldn't get your data.

Earlier versions of Kingston security drives set the number of failed log-in attempts at 25, but user feedback showed this was too many, the company said. The 10-attempt limit is set at the factory, but also can be customized; users cannot modify the limit on their own.

We plugged the BlackBox into the USB port on our Dell OptiPlex 6X 280 PC with an Intel 3.20-GHz CPU with 512 RAM running Windows XP. The device illuminates with a small blue light on one end to show that it's connected and working. A log-in screen immediately pops up, and you set up your password. Make sure your password has a combination of three of these characteristics: upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and special characters. I have a habit of setting my passwords in all lower case, so I had a couple of false attempts when I tried to log in later on.

The screen prompts you for your name, company and address, all handy if the device should get lost, since anyone who finds the device is able to read this information, though nothing else. It also lets you set up hints to help you remember your password.

The BlackBox's performance on our data transfer tests was acceptable, considering that it was built more for data protection and portability than speedy transfer.

The transfer rate for transferring a 1G document from the BlackBox to the Dell OptiPlex hard drive was 134.02 Mbps, a good bit slower than most standalone external hard drives. Compare this with the speeds in a recent comparison review the GCN Lab did recently. However, most of these drives weigh several pounds, not a several ounces. And most are not encrypting files that are placed on them, either.

The transfer rate from the hard drive back to the BlackBox was better, at 177.84 Mbps, but that's still a good bit slower than most standalone external drives.

If it's speed you want, get one of the big standalone external drives that you can also use as a doorstop. If you want a drive you can take anywhere with encryption that's certified by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the DataTraveler BlackBox is for you. This would be a good choice for feds who use a lot of classified data, are frequent travelers, look great in trench coats and who like to slip in and out of the shadows quickly and easily. We'll name no names but you know who you are, Agent 99.

Kingston Technology, 540-273-8248, www.kingston.com

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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