LaCie Rugged Safe


LaCie's Rugged Safe is a secure fortress for data

Small but strong device provides sophisticated protection

You can’t be too careful nowadays. The adage is particularly true when it comes to data storage. Most enterprise administrators and all enterprise risk executives will tell you that what keeps them up at night, aside from their network going down or being hacked, is an employee losing a portable hard drive, such as that on a laptop PC or removable storage device.

From a thief’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense to go after these. It’s a lot easier to steal a small, portable device like an external hard drive than it is to hack into a computer, let alone a network. And with the advent of WikiLeaks, the real goal of the perpetrators may not always be financial gains, but rather a chance to expose a secret or two to the world.

It was reported that when the Navy SEAL team invaded Osama bin Laden’s compound in May, they seized dozens of portable storage devices containing gigabytes of information. For the sake of national security and the sanity of the men and women who are combing through that data, let’s hope they don’t encounter a LaCie Rugged Safe.

GCN Lab Reviewers Choice Award 2011 LaCie 500G Rugged Safe

Ease of use: A-
Features: A+
Performance: A-
Value: A
Price: $170
Pros: Very rugged and offers encryption and biometrics.
Cons: Aluminum cover gets hot.

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Built to last as a fortress of data, the Rugged Safe is a 1TB or 500G hard drive surrounded by a shock-resistant enclosure called the rubber bumper. Inside the case, four independent suspensions hold the hard drive in place.

LaCie built the Rugged Safe’s shell with aluminum, which naturally dissipates drive heat and eliminates the need for an internal fan. This unique design draws heat away from the internal drive toward the external casing, which makes the external casing warm to the touch even after only five minutes of use. 

Although we reviewed only one 500G Rugged Safe, we can see why LaCie does not recommend stacking more than three active rugged drives on top of each other. This design does improve the safety of the internal drive, prolonging its life and reliability even after frequent bumps and drops.

Despite the rugged features of this portable device, the true marvel is its internal security qualities. For starters, the Rugged Safe requires biometric authorization to access its content. As a result, anyone wanting to use the device will have to enroll up to 10 fingerprints to access the data on the hard drive.

Biometric woes

The key number to remember here is 10. Since this drive can store up to 10 fingerprint ID’s, that means that any one device can have up to 10 users, or one device can store the 10 prints of one user. I emphasize the point because I’ve heard countless stories of users enrolling only one fingerprint on a secured device and subsequently damaging that finger or fingerprint, leaving them unable to access the device. Another common issue, although it didn’t occur with our test unit, is that a glitch takes place during enrollment of a fingerprint. When this happens it can become difficult and time-consuming to access a device. The takeaway is that it’s always good to have a backup enrolled print.

As if the biometrics wasn’t enough technology, the Rugged Safe also includes Level 2 Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), commonly used by the U.S. government for encrypting and safeguarding sensitive data.

Finally, a password authentication system that secures an administrator account adds depth to the portable hard drive's security. It’s a feature that I’ve never seen before. The true innovation isn’t the password security so much as the admin account, which monitors and provides access to the drive on different levels.

The administrator has complete control over who can access the data stored on the LaCie Rugged Safe, including the ability to add or remove users, change a user’s name or password or even assign administrator rights to other users. By default, the first person to use the drive becomes an administrator. However, as we mentioned, administrative privileges can be given to any user. As a default there has to be at least one administrator for each LaCie Rugged Safe, and for safety sake, there should be at least two.

The main management software for the Rugged Safe, called the Safe Manager, is intuitive and easy to use when managing fingerprint recognition and password protection. Built around a simple wizard, the install software guides the administrator of the LaCie Rugged Safe through the setup process, which takes about five minutes.

Getting going

To get up and running, first connect the Rugged Safe to your computer via USB 2.0 or FireWire 800. Please note that if you use a Mac you must be running at least OS X 10.6. Also, if you use USB, you can connect the optional USB power-sharing cable to the drive and to your computer. This cable may rule out the need for an additional power cable if the USB port on your computer provides enough power to run the Rugged Safe.

The final steps for installing the Rugged Safe are pretty basic. Load the utilities disc in your PC. Install LaCie Safe Manager to create and register one to 10 users and determine during the install whether you want to format the drive as FAT32, HFS+ for Mac or NTFS for Windows machines.

By using the FireWire 800, you have the option of connecting additional hard drives or devices directly to the LaCie Rugged Safe, essentially creating a small network of drives commonly called a “daisy chain.”

A daisy chain only works with FireWire throughout the entire chain. Therefore your computer will not recognize a daisy chained device if the in­terfaces are mixed with USB. Also if you use a combination of FireWire cables, like a mix of FireWire 400 and FireWire 800, the data transfer rates will be limited to the slowest version of FireWire, i.e. FireWire 400.

For testing purposes we used both USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 and found both speeds impressive. By moving a 10G mix of data we were able to average about 400 Mbits/sec for USB 2.0. FireWire almost doubled that speed to 732 Mbits/sec.

These rates, while fast, are consistent with the average rates of most modern portable storage devices. What we were more interested in seeing was whether they would slow down with prolonged exposure to heat, wear and use. We spent 12 hours in 85 degree heat moving the same 10G of data on and off the device, and with every test we noticed little to no drop in the transfer rates.

Modestly priced at $170 for the 500G unit we tested and $250 for the 1T version, it’s no wonder we were able to fall so easily for these devices. And in case our analysis hasn’t quite sold you yet, one final takeaway to remember is the slim size and light weight. Considering how large drives of this caliber were as little as five years ago, it’s amazing to think that at 3.5-by-1-by 5.7-inches and only 10.5 oz in weight, you can get a device that’s this durable and protects your data like a vault.

For all these reasons, the LaCie 500G Rugged Safe earns our Reviewer’s Choice designation.

LaCie Inc.


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