USB flash drive (USB stick, USB drive, USB flash, whatever you call it) is getting cheaper while storage capacity is getting larger. With its tiny physical size and low cost, USB flash drive has become the portable storage of choice. For the same reasons, it poses a serious risk to your data. The likely hood of losing one is high.
Many miseries or data breaches are caused by misplace an unsecured USB flash drives that carry mission-critical data. If you are crazy enough to trust your important, irreplaceable data on an unsecured USB flash drive that is so easy to misplace or forget behind, then you should at least make sure the data on the USB flash drive is secure. That is what secure flash drive are for.
Using encryption software to secure unsecured USB flash drive makes sense, but if you want easier and better security from the start, it is best to turn to secure USB flash drive with built-in hardware encryption. Secure USB drives are the best way to prevent data breaches that have plagued corporations and government agencies for years.
There are different types of secure USB flash drives with different levels of security. Some vendors implement software encryption, some implement hardware encryption with passwords protection; some provide security by including a bio-metric fingerprint scanner; some vendors manufacture both types. That is one of the reasons why some cost more than others. There are many secure USB flash drives available on the market, I will mention some basic technology behind them.
Hardware encrypted drives contain an always-on built-in random number generator that independently handles all of the security for the drive. When users plug the device into a USB port for the first time, a brief initialization set-up wizard will prompt you to assign a password for the device, along with a few simple questions of your preferences regarding features of the drive. Once you create your password, the encryption algorithms lock into place, and you can begin using your drive just as you would any other USB drive. 256-bit AES encryption has never been cracked yet and is safe against any brute force attacks.
It is widely acknowledged that 256-bit AES hardware-based encryption implementations can help prevent a range of common attacks more effectively than software-based encryption. It conforms to the Advanced Encryption Standard defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It is inconceivable for anyone to crack the encryption even using the most advanced technology. It would take longer than a billions of years to decrypt the 256-bit AES hardware-based encryption.
Software encryption is available as a cheaper alternative to hardware encryption. It often requires numerous updates to keep up with hacking techniques, could be quite slow, and may require complex driver and software installations. Software encryption is better than having no encryption at all, it may still be vulnerable to user error, leaving data to fall through the cracks and be susceptible to potential thieves. Since software encryption requires users to follow certain procedures in order to secure the data, users may forget, or choose to ignore certain aspects of the encryption process.
Keep in mind that just because a secure USB drive supports hardware-based 256-bit AES encryption does not means it has received validation for the implementation according to the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS). What is FIPS?
Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) are a set of standards that describe document processing, encryption algorithms and other information technology standards for use within non-military government agencies, government contractors, and vendors who work with the agencies. There are four level of security within FIPD 140.
Security Level 1 provides the lowest level of security. Basic security requirements are specified for a cryptographic module
Security Level 2 improves upon the physical security mechanisms of a Security Level 1 cryptographic module by requiring features that show evidence of tampering, including tamper-evident coatings or seals that must be broken to attain physical access to the plaintext cryptographic keys and CSP within the module, or pick-resistant locks on covers or doors to protect against unauthorized physical access.
Security Level 3 attempts to prevent the intruder from gaining access to CSPs held within the cryptographic module. Physical security mechanisms required at Security Level 3 are intended to have a high probability of detecting and responding to attempts at physical access, use or modification of the cryptographic module.
Security Level 4 provides the highest level of security. At this security level, the physical security mechanisms provide a complete envelope of protection around the cryptographic module with the intent of detecting and responding to all unauthorized attempts at physical access.
To ensure that the data is secure on your USB flash drive, I recommend hardware-base encryption, becasuse most software-encryption based USB devices don’t and cannot make encryption mandatory. Users can freely bypass the security features and simply copy data to the USB drive unencrypted as they wish. This user behavior can be quite common, because software encryption products require extra steps and proprietary user interfaces to encrypt data.
Whether you need a secure USB flash drive or not, I always recommend a secure flash drive even when all you need is just any low-cost USB flash drive, because the value of your data is usually more valuable and cost more than what you think. A cheap secure USB flash drive is always better than none.
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