Iron Key Product Review

June 16, 2008

by — Posted in Security, Technology

I received an Iron Key unit to see evaluate and see how it would integrate into our environment.   I can say I was skeptical and didn’t think it would have amounted to much, encrypted flash drive that we’ve all seen from a dozen vendors.   I was not too worried about if there was an actual encryption chip on the device as much as functionality.  I had expected this device to perform as well as all the other devices in the same vein.  I was however, pleasantly surprised.

While I can say that for the most part this will work identically to other devices you may use that support encryption, the one thing that allows this to stand out is how it acts for user privileged access.  For a custom desktop setup we are working on it would not allow a user to have administrative access to the computer.  The lack of administrative access caused the software that came with our standard Lexar thumbdrives to not be able to work in encrypted software vault mode.   It code still do standard file encryption, but you wouldn’t be able to have an encrypted partition.

The Ironkey however worked just fine in this configuration.  It was able to decompress the data and look at the data as it was a normal partition.  Since this functionality is a must have it exceeded expectations.

Let’s take a look at the packaged software:

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When you first insert the drive this is what you see.   You can notice that it creates two drive letters (E and F on my computer).  The first drive letter is unencrypted and only has the software unlocking program on it.   If you click on the second partition Windows asks you to put a disk in the drive.   So it’s not truly mounted nor readable.

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After you run the software on the first partition, you can notice the second drive now states “IronKey Secure Files”.  At this point the partition is unencrytped and ready to read.

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This is the first screen you see when you put in the flash drive (and you have auto-run enabled).   If you do not have auto-run enabled you can start this from the first partition.   The interface is straight forward and unassuming, perfect for someone like me.

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After two wrong passwords this is the error message that pops up.  If the password is entered in ten times incorrectly the drive will be permenantly locked and the data will no longer be able to be retreived.

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When you are successful with entering in your passphrase this is the interface the software presents.  You have four options from this screen.  The secure files option just brings up the encrypted partition, which is the same thing you can do by going to “My Computer”.   The secure backup allows you to make back-ups of your encrypted partition.   The settings option allows you to amek device changes.  Finally the lock drive option re-encrypts the contents and logs you out of the software taking you back to the first screen.

The first screen of the secure backup utility prompts you for the location of your Ironkey you wish to backup (I’m assuming this is in case you are using multiple Ironkey’s at once).   It also allows you choose the location to save teh backup to.

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The second secure backup screen is as unassuming as the first.   It allows you to browse to the back-up and restore it directly to your IronKey that you have plugged in.

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I can say, when I open a settings screen I would have thought there would have been more options then this.  The first preference on give you the option reformat the drive.

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The lost and found screen allows you to display a simple message that pops up on the unecrypted login.  If some soul find your drive they can then send it back to you.  The real question is if they will burn through the ten password attempts before they do.

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The last option is solely for changing the passphrase that you use to unlock your Ironkey stick.  It is simple and precise.

If you need a device that allows full encryption and that is functional when you do not have administrative access to the computer it’s used on this is it.   I will say I’m not too happy that they haven’t the OSX or Linux clients that they have been working on, but they state on their site that they will be forthcoming.

If your interested in picking one up from Amazon here are some links for you:

IronKey 1GB Secure Hardware-Encrypted Flash Drive

IronKey 2GB Secure Hardware-Encrypted Flash Drive

IronKey 4GB Secure Hardware-Encrypted Flash Drive

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