When it comes to securing data on a flash drive, ease of use is paramount. Despite offering three different ways to protect your data, the Lexar JumpDrive Secure II Plus gets no stars because of its poor user interface.
The 1GB model we tested actually only comes with 922MB free, because it needs 80MB for its utility software -- not a huge factor when purchasing larger capacity models. (The drive also comes in 512MB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB versions.) Results from the HD Tach benchmark tests were middle of the pack, and securing data came at a cost in terms of time.
As with most other drives we tested, this memory stick uses 256-bit AES encryption. When we inserted the drive into our test laptop, we were immediately presented with the Dashboard (see Figure 1) -- a four-item menu of options (create a vault, encrypt files, shred files and change settings). Windows recognized the drive and assigned it the drive letter "E."
You can store files on the "E" drive like any flash drive, but if you want to protect a large group of files, you'll want to use the first data protection option we tested: creating a "vault." Vaults are folders you define on the drive itself (the "E" drive in our case). You give the vault a meaningful name (this will end up being the folder name on the "E" drive) and specify a password (from eight to 32 characters using any combination of letters, numbers and unspecified special characters). As you enter your password, a graphic (see Figure 2) shows the strength of your password as it moves from red (weak) to green (strong); the longer your password, and the more varied the characters (uppercase, lowercase, numbers), the better. Entering identical characters consecutively (aa, for example) and your password gets a weaker score.
After re-entering the password (to avoid typos), enter a hint (the only restriction we found was that the hint can't be exactly the same as the password itself) and choose a drive letter to assign to your vault. The Secure II software creates a folder on the Lexar drive and assigns that folder the drive letter you selected (we chose "F"). It took the software 50 seconds to create a 200MB vault; it took four minutes, 55 seconds to create a 915MB vault to hold a video file.
Once created, the vault is "mounted" -- Lexar's term for making the drive available -- and you can begin adding or deleting files. The drive appears as an ordinary drive letter in any Windows file manager. We saved files directly from applications such as Word to the "F" drive, added folders and did most of the ordinary file management tasks you can do with a hard drive folder.
When you no longer need the drive, you can "unmount" it through the Dashboard. Unfortunately, if any application is showing the drive's contents (such as Windows Explorer), you'll have to shut them down before you can unmount the drive.
To access your files again (after the drive is unmounted, after inserting the drive, or when the drive is already connected to your USB port and you power up your system), you'll need to go through the Dashboard to mount the drive and enter your password.
The drive comes with a meter that fills with 10 black dots, one for each tenth of total space used. The meter is visible even after you remove the drive or power down your system. Vaults, however, throw the meter a curve ball; they immediately register the entire vault as used space, even if you haven't stored a single file in the vault.
There are other problems with vaults. For example, you can't resize them, and when it comes to deleting vaults, the help file is no help. It tells you to simply delete the vault using a file manager; we suspect that many users will try to delete the drive letter to which they've assigned the vault, which won't work. (You must go to the original drive -- "E" in our case -- and find the Vaults folder, then find the name of your vault and delete it there.)
Shredding and encrypting
Another way to protect data from prying eyes -- data you no longer need, that is -- is to shred it. The Shred command from the Dashboard opens a small window in which you can choose to shred files in the Recycle Bin or shred your free space or individual files (as long as they're not in a vault). To shred individual files, you drag and drop them to a small window (or click on the Add button to choose a file), then click the Shred button.
Encrypting individual files, the third protection option, is far more tedious. You open the Dashboard, choose File Encryption, click the Encrypt Files tab, click the Add button to navigate to the file you want to encrypt or drag a file from a list (such as Windows Explorer), click the Encrypt button, enter the password you want to assign, then wait (it never took more than three seconds to encrypt our test Word and Excel documents). In the process, Secure II changes the name of your file -- adding an LRS extension to the file name -- and your file manager (we used ExplorerPlus from Novatix) changes the icon to help you distinguish the fact that the file is encrypted.
Unencrypting the file is much the same: start at the Dashboard, choose the File Encryption option, click the Decrypt Files tab, find the file(s), enter the password and wait a couple of seconds.
If you want double protection, you can individually encrypt a file in a vault.
Unfortunately, Secure II doesn't hitch itself to the operating system (we tested using Windows XP; the manufacturer says it's Vista compatible). If you want to quickly shred an individual file, for example, you can't simply right-click it from a file list in Windows Explorer or a Windows application and choose a Shred option.
This lack of a hook into Windows means it's a hassle to decrypt a file from within an application. For instance, if you're working in Word, you can't use the File/Open command, right-click on an .LRS file after you change the file filter in Word to look for files with that extension, decrypt it, then open the just-decrypted file and begin editing. Instead, you have to start at the Dashboard, choose the File Encryption option -- you get the idea. After doing this a few times, the process became frustratingly tedious.
The Lexar JumpDrive isn't particularly speedy. In our HD Tach tests (from www.simplisoftware.com), we measured an average read speed of 15.5MB/sec., average CPU usage at 7% and burst speed of 15.9MB/sec. We copied a 909MB AVI file to the drive itself (the unencrypted "E" drive) in three minutes, 55 seconds. When we created a vault (which took nearly five minutes), the copy took an additional 60 seconds (a 25% premium). That was faster than individually encrypting the file: After copying it to the "E" drive, encryption took one minute, 55 seconds.
Playback of the video file took six seconds when launched from our hard drive -- the unencrypted "E" drive -- and only seven seconds when launched from the vault.
So-so performance and a lack of Windows hooks doesn't make us jump for (storage) joy with the Lexar JumpDrive.
Pricing for the Lexar JumpDrive Secure II Plus on PriceGrabber ranged from $15.48 for a 1GB model to $72.06 for an 8GB model. The drive comes with a two-year limited warranty on drive, one year on capacity display.