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Can Kingston save feds from themselves?

I collect key drives. As a technology editor, I regularly receive vendor information on key drives--at trade shows, conferences, via the mail. I glance at the info contained therein, save the good stuff to my hard drive, then wipe the drive clean. It's now ready for my personal use--to store tax returns, family pictures and, yes, files I take home from the office to work on.

I also lose key drives. I've dropped one under my car, left one in the USB port of a press room computer and barely saved one from a trip through the laundry. Luckily, in every case so far I've been able to retrace my steps and reclaim the drives (although not always the same day). And my data has so far never fallen into enemy hands. More on that later.

I've got more than my share of 64MB devices--good enough for carrying around the PDFs and PPTs and Word files I use regularly for work. A 128MB drive is somewhat rare (remember, these are giveaways). The holy grail of freebies is the 256MB version.

Earlier this year at a tech event (I won't say which because I intend to bring a shopping bag to next year's), I came face-to-face with the holy grail--and it was better than I imagined. A public relations firm handed me a 256MB Kingston DataTraveler Elite, full of product information. The DataTraveler Elite employs 128-bit, hardware-assisted encryption and password protection. Yes, that means not nearly all of my 256MB is available to files (the security software has to go somewhere), but it works as advertised and gives me peace of mind.

Now, there are several companies that make encrypted key drives. And seeing as government employees use them frequently to take work home, agencies might want to make them standard issue (check GCN on June 5 for our exclusive survey of workers' mobility habits in light of the Veterans Affairs debacle).

But I bring up the Kingston DataTraveler Elite because news out today is that the company is donating 5,000 DataTraveler Elite Privacy Edition devices to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan through Operation Gratitude, a non-profit based in Encino, Calif.

This is good news, and not just for its altruism. Recently, it's been reported that key drives, some containing confidential military data, were discovered on sale at Afghan bazaars. The data, it appears, was not encrypted. Yikes.

If a donation like Kingston's can help avoid an embarrassing, even tragic, incident, it will prove immeasurable. The DataTraveler Elite Privacy Edition is an upscale model, mostly because it encrypts files on the fly, so users don't have to worry about it. It also has protection against brute force intrusion--it locks down after a certain number of failed password attempts.

If I have any nit-picks about the device, they're that it only works with Windows 2000 SP3 and up, and that it gives would-be hackers 25 chances to guess a password before locking down. Seems if someone can't remember a password in 10 tries, they either never will or never knew it to begin with.

Data moves. It always will. Organizations can't rely on the kindness of strangers to ensure the data stays safe.

And data moves in many ways. Key drives are among the most convenient. But no matter how workers move data--and they will whether agencies let them or not--seamless encryption should be part of the security solution.

Posted by Brad Grimes

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on Jun 01, 2006 at 9:39 AM

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Reader Comments

Fri, Jun 2, 2006 Brad Grimes DC

Thanks for your comment, and you're probably right, I'd staple a 1GB drive to my hand if it would keep me from losing it. But I'd argue that the drive itself is not what's valuable. When I lose a key drive with dozens of important files on it, it doesn't matter if it's 64MB or 1GB, paid for or not.

Fri, Jun 2, 2006 Melissa Butler DC

Not arguing with your main point at all - I'd like to see more sensitive data encrypted, believe me. I was just thinking that maybe if you bought a real key drive, 1 GB for example, if yours weren't all freebies and therefore disposable by nature, you'd keep a closer eye on it and not drop it under your car.

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