StarTech portable hard drive enclosure encrypts data in real-time

- October 9th, 2012

StarTechEnclosure

Encrypting your data is certainly a good way to keep those prying eyes away from confidential, personal and sensitive information. So StarTech has come up with a creative way to easily keep your files, specifically those not located right on your computer safe and secure, especially while you’re on the road.

Enter the StarTech Encrypted SATA to USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive enclosure. While the name is certainly a mouthful, the unit is nice and compact but made of sturdy plastic and steel. It’s designed to support almost any 2.5″ SATA drive up to 1 terabyte (TB) in capacity and up to 9.5mm in height as well as the newer SSD (Solid State) drives. In fact my tests on the enclosure were done using a San Disk Extreme SSD 240GB drive.

The large 1TB limit makes it a more practical option than a USB flash drive, especially for those who lug around hundreds of gigs of data.

Real-Time Hardware Encryption

What’s unique about this StarTech unit is that the encryption does not happen at the operating system level or via software from the computer, instead it’s all done within the hardware in real-time via a 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard algorithm) encryption and a high speed 32-bit ARM based controller.

Access to the drive is made available through a numeric touch PIN pad, so you can quickly and easily password-protect your drive and limit access in case of loss or theft. It’s also designed so that if you remove the drive and install it in another enclosure or even install directly in a computer, the data is still protected. While this sounds ideal, it’s also a red flag. If by chance there is a hardware malfunction or the controller fails, or if you forget your PIN, you’re hooped, there is no way to access your data. You can’t simply replace the enclosure, even with an identical one. I suspect that this is likely due to the encryption key being in whole or in part derived from an attribute from its embedded chipset or some unique identifier, which varies from enclosure to enclosure. This could be a serious issue if the data on the drive is not stored elsewhere.  In fact, the manufacturer offers its own warning not to use this solution as a sole backup. Basically, it’s a tradeoff you have to be willing to accept for securing your data.

On the other hand, if the drive is simply a copy you travel with it might be well worth the risk, depending on your circumstance.

Built-In Features

In addition to the numeric PIN pad, the enclosure has additional features. There is a built-in digital usage timer which keeps track of how long the drive has been connected and a temperature indicator for compatible hard drives to ensure you’re not overheating the unit. They are displayed in a small LED window located just above the PIN pad.

StarTechKit

The enclosure measures 123mm x 77mm x 14mm and weighs under 100g. It’s shipped as a kit, so you can add your own drive.  It comes with a USB 3.0 cable, a small carry case and a cleaning cloth. They also include a mini-screwdriver and a hardware mount with screws. The unit is powered via your USB port, but a USB to DC adapter cable is also included in case your USB port doesn’t have enough power output.

Does the Job

Overall, the enclosure does the job it’s supposed to do. If you need an external drive to work on the road with sensitive information, fully acknowledging the possible risks involved, it’s certainly the way to go. The StarTech secures your data and encrypts on the fly, with surprisingly no loss of drive performance in the process. It offers incredibly fast data transfer speeds to and from your computer especially if it’s equipped with a USB 3.0 compatible port.

The StarTech Encrypted SATA to USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive Enclosure (model: S2510BU3PW) is compatible with Windows, Mac OS and Linux operating systems. It retails for $119.99 in Canada and is available through outlets like NewEgg.ca and Amazon.

 

Pros:

Portable

Secure; Real-time Encryption

Built-in PIN pad

Computer Independent

 

Cons:

Data not recoverable in case of hardware failure

No ability to recover lost PIN password

 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

 

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Greg Gazin is the Real Canadian Gadget Guy.

Follow me on Twitter @gadgetgreg or Empire Avenue (e)GADGET1.

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2 comments

  1. JP | October 13, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Seriously? Being unable to get around an encryption key is seen as a “con”? I thought security was what this is about. If there was a way around the security key, then it wouldn’t be particularly secure, would it? A backdoor can be abused by others; leave no backdoor and the data is secure.

  2. Greg Gazin | October 13, 2012 at 2:34 am

    JP, Thanks for the comment.

    I’m not saying being unable to get around the encryption key is a con. The whole thing is a catch-22. If your drive is lost or stolen, the perps can’t get in or take the drive the drive and move it to an non-secure enclosure. It’s that if you forget your PIN or the hardware simply fails, your data is not recoverable.

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