IRONKEY Hardware encrypted USB Device – Product Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The Ironkey Device on test for review was a “Personal” version and, inadvertently I must have clicked on the update for it took around thirty minutes before the key was set up and ready to roll.

Something users need to be aware of, that is to say... don't just click “OK” to a question... read it, and this does not just apply as far as the Ironkey device goes; it applies in general to any message on your PC. And no, you do not have to do that update. Set up the key first and then, maybe, just maybe, when the key feels like it and you, let it update.

The setup, on the other hand, aside from it taking me 30 minutes because I did not, I guess, read the setup wizard's questions properly, is straightforward as with most of those AES 256 hardware encrypted USB devices.

The test was performed, I must also add, on a slow old Compaq EVO which since has been retired as it was just getting too slow, and on XP Pro operating system. It works equally well on Vista.

Unfortunately I could not get the Ironkey to work on Linux though it is Linux ready and works on some versions of this popular replacement for Windows. The problem is, for me, that the version Ubuntu Linux operating system that I run is not supported. I still have a rather old Ubuntu “Dapper Drake” but, because I believe that if something works fine not to change it, I will stay with it, at least on that particular machine, for the moment. Therefore, playing with the Ironkey on Linux may have to wait a little.

Otherwise there was no problem with the stick and it performs well though I must say I find it slower in opening, for instance, than AES 256 hardware encrypted sticks from competitors and Ironkey is also the only one that does not allow for the device to be recycled in the event of a password loss and lock down when more than the set attempts – ten as default – of invalid passwords have been entered. The chip in the device is then destroyed and rendered entirely useless. This, considering the cost of Ironkey devices could prove to be a little on the expensive side and I understand that Ironkey is looking at following others to recycle the drives in the event of password lock down rather than rendering the device useless.

I have had that happen to me – the loss of password – with a Blockmaster Safestick but there all one has to do is to chose the “recycle” facility and the device can be made usable again. All data on the stick is lost but the device itself can be reused.

Also, when we look at being green in matters of IT that too is, in a way, important and having such devices then needlessly end up in E-waste just because someone has lost a password is not a good idea.

Will this compromise security? Personally I do not think so for the anti-tamper mechanism can remain in place which is to say that should someone try to force access to the chip the entire thing would be destroyed.

Not having been able, so far, to test the drive on Linux means that I cannot comment on that operating system and interoperability but we can, I am sure, leave that for another time.

Aside from the fact that I, inadvertently, triggered an update installation that took about 30 minutes, the setup was easy, as it should be, and anyone, I am sure, would be able to master that.

I must say though that I find the Ironkey considerably slower in opening, for instance, than other AES 256 devices. Ironkey takes probably twice the time in opening compared to, say, Sandisk Cruizer Enterprise or the Blockmaster Safestick.

On the other hand, though, Ironkey is much harder than others, I should think, being encased in solid steel.

In grading I would give Ironkey probably 8 out of 10 and this is simply because – aside from the problem I had due to possibly giving a “yes” to an update – it is considerably slower in setting up and in opening in comparison to other and because it will destroy the drive rather than recycle it in case of password lock-down.

The grading has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that due to my possible giving, as said above, permission for the update that took 30 minutes to complete, nor with the fact that it does not work with older versions of Ubuntu Linux, such as Dapper Drake, which it does not support. Only Ubuntu from Hearty Heron upwards is supported.

It is rather a shame that Ubuntu Dapper Drake is not supported as it is a long term support attached to it and is used in many government departments and such across the world.

On the other hand I do like the facility of having the Firefox Browser installed upon the drive enabling my own settings to be carried. Ironkey, aside from the MXI device I have reviewed some time back, is the only one that, thus far, has has such programs installed upon the drive.

Do I like the device? Yes, very much so.

Would I use it? Yes, definitely, but only for the most sensitive data I would like to carry.

Ironkey is, probably, more a device for the military and security- and other government agencies and large corporation rather than for SMEs or individuals and this not just because of the price tag but especially because it will destroy the drive rather than recycle it in case of password lock-down. The price one pays for the Ironkey would be rather a lot to lose for an individual or an SME.

However, I am told that in the future Ironkey may change things and just have the drive recycle itself if the password has been entered a set amount of times incorrectly rather than it destroying the chip and rendering the drive unusable.

The more ordinary user can find devices that perform similarly though may be not as secure for a much lower price.

For the right agencies and companies Ironkey will be the real and probably only choice because it, more than likely, offers the best security protection possible; hence it is a highly recommendable device for the right user and user group. It may not fit every user and every budget. But as we know, it is “horses for courses”.

© 2009