The GeekCyborg team has put together this guide to help you choose the best encrypted drive for your needs.
Data privacy is important for everyone. In a time where most data is stored digitally, encrypting your sensitive information is a must. Since the risk of losing your flash drive (or portable hard drive) is always there, encrypted drives can save you lots of hassle.
Using mathematical formulas, these drives encrypt all the data that’s stored on them, making it impossible to read without the right key or password.
Whether the data stored on your USB/hard drive is your family pictures or sensitive business data, you’d better keep it encrypted. In case it’s lost, you know that nobody else will be able to read it.
The main issue now isn’t whether encrypted drives are important or not. If you didn’t know they were important, you wouldn’t be here, to begin with. The question is how to choose the right encrypted drive.
There are different models out there with different encryption methods. And to be honest, most people don’t want to dig that deep into the details. Most of us just want a high-quality encrypted drive that works.
Let’s have a look at the best encrypted flash drive models that you can currently get.
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Apricorn is a company that specializes in encrypted drives. It produces a wide array of high-quality encrypted data storage solutions and is a trusted name in the cybersecurity world. And this model is no exception. There are plenty of reasons that make this encrypted flash drive one of the best available options.
First of all, this encrypted USB drive has AES XTS encryption, which is the highest encryption level that you can get on an encrypted drive. The Aegis Secure Key 3Z is the go-to choice for people who want maximum data security.
If you have sensitive data that you want to protect and don’t mind paying a premium for it, this is what you should get. This encryption level means that you can rest assured that your data is safe.
As for the unlock method, this model boasts a durable physical keypad that can be used for unlocking the flash drive. The entire unlock process happens on the device itself.
So, there is no need for 3rd party software or any action from the computer. Unless the drive is unlocked, the computer it’s connected to can’t interact with it in any way. This greatly reduces the chance of exploits and makes the drive even more secure.
The physical durability of this encrypted drive is at the same level as the encryption. It has a sturdy aluminum housing that makes it sturdy and resistant to shocks. It’s also an IP57 water and dust resistant model so you won’t have to worry about it getting damaged from that either.
The only downside to this encrypted USB drive is that it’s not suitable for people who want a subtle look. It’s clearly encrypted and unless you don’t want to show that for some reason, this is cutting-edge encrypted storage that’s worth every penny.
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Not everyone wants military-grade security for their data. And most importantly, not everyone is willing to pay top dollar for that kind of protection. If you’re a casual user who is looking for decent encryption levels at a budget-friendly price, this is a model that we highly recommend.
When it comes to USB drives, Kingston is a brand that doesn’t need an introduction. If you’ve ever owned a flash drive in your life, you know what Kingston is. With hardware encryption and metal casing, this USB drive keeps your data safe from all types of damage. What makes this model stand out though isn’t the encryption, it’s the cloud backup feature.
The ClevX backup option of this flash drive automatically backs up your data to the cloud whenever you have an internet connection. So, in case the USB drive is lost, not only will your data be protected from unauthorized access, it’ll only be backed up so you can restore it. So, it’s more of a proactive data protection approach.
As you would typically expect from a Kingston flash drive, this model has USB 3.0 and supports both Mac OS X and Windows machines. As an added safety feature, this USB drive will lock down and format itself after 10 failed login attempts. This makes this USB drive resistant to brute force attacks.
The one thing that we don’t like about this model is not having built-in antivirus protection. Other than that, it’s a pretty solid budget option.
Another thing you should consider before buying this encrypted flash drive is that it has to encrypt and decrypt data on the fly. So, the data transfer speeds are slower, despite having USB 3.0.
This is another great encrypted USB drive from Kingston. What we like most about this model is the fact that it strikes the perfect balance between security and value. It offers business-grade security at an affordable price, which makes it a perfect midrange choice.
In terms of encryption, this flash drive has AES, hardware-based encryption in XTS. So, you don’t have to worry about the security of your data as this model meets some of the industry’s toughest standards. This includes the FIPS 197 certification and TAA compliance.
Asides from the decent encryption level, this model comes in standard, managed, and anti-virus models. Without getting into unnecessary details -plenty can be found on the product page, we’ll just say that regular users will be more than satisfied with either the regular or the anti-virus model.
If you’re an IT professional or a tech geek who loves tinkering, the managed model gives you total control. You can change everything from the number of failed attempts after which the drive will wipe itself to the whitelisted software.
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Are you one of those people who keep forgetting their passwords? If the answer is yes, this encrypted USB drive is definitely for you. Instead of forcing you to remember a password -or write it down somewhere, this flash drive has a built-in fingerprint scanner.
All you have to do is touch the scanner with your finger and it’ll unlock your data. The scanner can read your print in 1.5 seconds, which is pretty decent. Despite not being super-fast like fingerprint scanners on modern smartphones, that’s the fastest scanner you’ll find on an encrypted drive.
In addition to the super-cool biometric authentication, this drive has another feature that’s both smart and convenient. And by that, we’re referring to the Double Sector option. By having an encrypted and non-encrypted sector, you get to choose where to place your data.
Despite seeming like a trivial feature, the Double Sector made using the encrypted drive much more convenient. Whenever we moved data to the non-encrypted sector, the process was lightning-fast due to having USB 3.0 and not having to encrypt this data.
The only downside of this model is that you can only use the fingerprint management software on a Windows machine. So, you can unlock the encrypted sector of the drive on a Mac but, you can’t modify the fingerprint unless you have access to a Windows computer. If you’re an all-Mac person, this will be a problem. Other than that, it’s a pretty solid choice for people who hate passwords.
Asides from its military-grade encryption level(AES in XTS mode), the build quality is one of the things that make this USB drive truly stand out. Once you hold it in your hand, you’ll immediately feel the build quality. The weight of the device and the well-designed buttons are some of the things that contribute to this premium feel.
The alphanumeric keypad is both dust and water resistant and the drive’s body is encased in an aluminum shell. So, the physical protection level of this model is on the same level as the encryption. One feature that we really liked about this model is the ability to reset the password by contacting the company.
In case you lost or forgot your drive’s password, you can send the drive’s unique serial number to the company. They’ll help you reset it (without compromising your data) once you confirm your order details with them. For many people, this feature is simply a lifesaver.
As for the compatibility, this drive works with Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. So, you won’t have any problems using it, no matter what operating system/type of computer you have.
The only issue with this drive is the unfortunate fact that it has USB 2.0. However, such highly-encrypted drives aren’t meant for storing movies. It’s mainly for storing sensitive data, which doesn’t usually come in the form of large files. So, this shouldn’t be a major issue for most users.
This is by far the best encrypted hard drive that you can buy. If you’re looking for safe storage for all of your important data, this “fortress” of a hard drive will do the trick. The large storage capacity combined with 256-bit AES XTS hardware encryption makes this drive an excellent data backup and storage choice, especially for people who don’t like cloud-based solutions.
To make your data even safer, this drive is both dust and water resistant. Add to that a sturdy build that makes the entire “physical safety” aspect covered. To make using this encrypted hard drive convenient on any computer, it has a software-free authentication process. Using the built-in padlock, you can enter your password and decrypt the data without interacting with the computer at all.
Unless the correct password is entered, your drive will remain completely invisible to the host. Once your data is decrypted, you can interact with the hard drive like you would do with any portable drive. Thanks to having USB 3.0, transferring data from and to the external drive is super-fast.
Since this is FIPS 140-2 validated, it’s trusted and used even by industries with sensitive data. These include finance, healthcare, legal and even many government sectors. As you’d expect from an encrypted hard drive at such a level, it has a programmable brute force protection mode and an unattended auto lock feature.
Despite not being an “encrypted flash drive”, we’ve chosen to include this hard drive on the list because it’s the best encrypted drive available by far. If the storage capacity of a flash drive won’t be enough for your needs, this will do the trick.
Encrypted Drives Buying Guide
If you want to get a decent encrypted drive that works best for your needs, these are some considerations that you should keep in mind.
Despite being a no brainer, this is something that’s often overlooked by many people when buying a new encrypted drive. For USB drives, the average capacity is usually between 8GB to 64GB. That’s what we call the “standard capacity range”.
Despite starting at 8GB, we don’t recommend getting a drive with such a small storage capacity. Even if you want to store a few files on it, this low capacity doesn’t make it future proof. At some point, you’ll want to store additional files and you won’t have enough space. So, we highly recommend getting at least 16GB and of course, the higher the capacity the better.
If you want to have an encrypted drive with storage more than 64GB, we recommend getting an encrypted hard drive instead of a flash drive. That will give you much better value per gigabyte.
2. Operating System
Whether you’re using Windows or Mac OS, you should make sure that the encrypted drive that you’re buying is compatible with that system. Most high-quality drives are compatible with both Mac and Windows. You should, however, check this compatibility before you buy.
Some encrypted drives run a launcher software that’s required to unlock the data (more details on that later). If the drive isn’t compatible with a Mac and that’s what you plan to use it on, you won’t be able to run the software. And as a result, won’t be able to unlock your drive.
3. Unlock Method
While some encrypted drives scream “Hey! I’m encrypted!”, others are more subtle. The not-so-subtle encrypted drives are the ones that have a physical method for unlocking the data on the drive.
These are either physical number pads on the drive or fingerprint scanners. The best thing about these drives is that you don’t need special software to decrypt your data. It’s a closed system by itself, which is always better in terms of security.
The third type of drives doesn’t have keypads or fingerprint scanners. In facts, these encrypted drives look exactly like your good-old flash drives. When you plug them into your computer though, a pre-installed software is launched to let you enter your password and decrypt your data.
4. FIPS Compliance
Not all “encrypted drives” are created equal. In order to get an encrypted drive with decent protection level, you’re better off getting something that’s FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) compliant. This will help you ensure the best protection for the data on the drive, as you’re getting a model that adheres to strict security regulations and guidelines.
5. Physical Durability
Being physically durable is something that’s as important as strong encryption for protecting your data. After all, the best encrypted drives aren’t any good if they can be easily damaged, along with your precious data.
And that’s why you need to pick a model that’s durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of being moved around all the time. While all the models on our list are durable enough, some are made to withstand even harsher use conditions.
This includes water and shock resistance to varying degrees. Only you can determine whether you need that extra level of protection or not, based on your use scenarios.
6. Anti-Virus Protection
This feature is great because it helps secure the data on your flash drive/hard drive, regardless of the computer you’re using. Since this anti-virus protection is built in the drive, it protects it from viruses that can be transferred to it when it’s connected to an infected computer. (And yes, even Macs get viruses!)
Since encrypted drives usually have sensitive data that you want to protect, this feature makes lots of sense. Definitely worth having.
7. Data Transfer Speed
This is super-important if you don’t want to grow old while waiting for your data to be transferred from/to your drive! The transfer speed is how fast a USB/hard drive can transfer data, which is usually expressed in megabytes per second (MBps).
Most modern units have USB 3.0, which can transfer data as fast as 640MBps. Compared to the aging USB 2.0, which can transfer data at 60MBps, USB 3.0 is super fast (more than 10x faster). If you plan on transferring large files frequently, you should avoid USB 2.0.
8. Additional Safety Features
Extra features for encrypted drives are usually measures that provide an extra layer of security. They are not an auto-include in all models and not everyone needs them. For example, some external hard drives have a self-destruct feature in case of a brute force attack.
That means if someone tries to hack into the drive, the drive will destroy itself to protect the data. Some drives are sealed in a special way to prevent hackers from carrying out a physical attack that requires opening them.
9. Encryption Algorithm
That’s a seriously deep topic so, let’s stick to the basics. The “AES” that you see next to the name of many encrypted drives stands for “Advanced Encryption Standard”. This method divides your data into rows, columns, and blocks, then shuffle everything in a way that makes extremely hard to decrypt (without the right key/password, of course).
You can think of the AES as the modern version of the Enigma Machine, which was used by the Germans in World War I. It takes raw information, and transforms it to encrypted text that can’t be deciphered using the same machine. That’s an easy way to look at it.
Other encryption algorithms include ECB (Electronic Code Book), CBC (Cyber Block Chaining). And above them, is the XTS, which stands for: XEX-based tweaked-codebook mode with ciphertext stealing (what a mouthful!). For more in-depth information about encryption algorithms, you can refer to this article.