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Review: 7 secure USB drives

By Bill O'Brien, Rich Ericson and Lucas Mearian
March 3, 2008 12:01 AM ET

Corsair Flash Padlock

The Corsair Flash Padlock is a horse of a different color from the encrypted drives in this roundup. This device is the same conceptually as the gear that kept your high school locker free from prying eyes -- a combination lock. It's strictly physical security, no encryption.

The Padlock looks like a traditional flash drive with a pull-off cap, except for the numeric keypad down the front. The keypad consists of five numbered buttons, while a sixth has a "key" icon. It's your entry point to accessing the security features of the drive.

As shipped, the Padlock is unlocked and can be used as a standard flash device. If you want to protect your data, you'll need to follow the instructions in the 17-page user manual (it's in six languages).

While the Padlock inserts directly into the USB port, it also comes with an extension cable (not shown here)
Click to view larger image

Security features

Setting up the drive involves pressing the key button, entering your selected PIN through the keypad, pressing the key button again, re-entering your PIN, followed by pressing the key button one last time. It's redundant grunt work with a few five-second time limits to make things tricky. Corsair recommends at least four digits, but the drive allows up to a 10-digit PIN.

After you've done that, you have 15 seconds to plug in the drive or it will automatically lock. However, if that happens, you'll just need to re-enter your PIN again to unlock it. If you don't unlock the drive, your computer won't recognize it at all, for anything. There's no need to lock the padlock once you remove it from your PC. It will do that itself after a few seconds.

What happens if you forget your PIN? If you register your PIN at Corsair's site you can retrieve it from there. If you didn't -- well, the Padlock is relatively inexpensive, so you can probably afford to buy another, since the one you have is now useless.

You can also change your PIN or totally unlock the drive if you no longer have a need for its security.

Editor's Note

Because the Corsair depends on a hardware lock, I thought I'd try to get to the data without using the combination. Getting at the drive wasn't terribly hard -- the drive case has a single screw on the bottom for battery replacement, which, when removed, allowed us to open the case after a little prying to separate the glue. First I tried removing and replacing the battery. The device did not reset itself during this process.

The Padlock disassembled
Click to view larger image

I then removed the keypad board and attempted to access the data by simply reinserting the main board into our USB port, but neither a PC nor a Mac would recognize the device. However, after a bit more fiddling (which, for the sake of all those out there who have already purchased this flash drive, I won't elaborate on), I was able to bypass the physical PIN security and access the data on the drive. The moral of the story: You may want to consider encrypting your data as well. --Lucas Mearian

Speed, pricing and the bottom line

According to Hd Tach, the Padlock has a burst speed of 15.9MB/sec. and an average read rate of 15.4MB/sec. Both are rather slow, and although there was no discernible difference during music or video playback, it did take four times longer to get an 888MB video onto the Padlock than it did onto Corsair's Survivor.

I found the 1GB model on PriceGrabber for $27-$39.

The key feature of the Corsair Flash Padlock is the lack of any software whatsoever. That means there is no AES encryption, but it also means the Padlock is compatible with Vista, XP, older versions of Windows, Linux, and yes, even Mac OS X. If you don't want or need the cross-platform versatility, or aren't comfortable with a keypad and a drop of glue standing between your data and the outside world, select one of the faster and more secure drives in our roundup. --Bill O'Brien



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