Review: Imation's Defender F200 biometric flash drive -- safe, but expensive

A fingerprint scanner adds a higher level of security to this drive

Earlier this month, Imation launched its Defender series of USB flash drives aimed at the consumer portable storage and data backup market.

The drives have a range of features, including hardware-based 256-bit AES data encryption, and have (or are in the process of receiving) varying levels of FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standardization) 140-2 Level 3 validation.

Defender F200 is a biometric flash drive
The Defender F200 biometric flash drive.

The drives vary in form factor and size, including two flash drives, two hard drives and an optical line of disc drives. I thought the most useful one to review would the Defender F200, a biometric flash drive with all the bells and whistles, including a waterproof casing, a built-in fingerprint scanner and the ability to create multiple disk partitions.

The Defender is awaiting Level 3 FIPS validation, second only to Level 4 for overall security. To achieve FIPS Level 3, a device must have some form of physical tamper resistance, password authentication, and a physical or logical separation between the interfaces by which "critical security parameters" enter and leave a device and its other interfaces.

But all that security doesn't come cheap. The drive comes in capacities ranging from 1GB to 32GB and has a suggested retail price of $99 to $349, depending on its capacity. I find $99 for a 1GB flash drive outrageous, but if you need a device with the highest level of security, it may be worth it to you.

The Defender F200 drive is a bit beefier in size compared with a typical USB drive, but that's to make room for an ergonomically designed biometric finger scanner. The drive comes in a metal, "tamper-resistant" enclosure, which basically means there are no screws showing. However, you could easily slip a flat-head screwdriver between the joint where the upper and lower casing meet and force it open.

One thing I don't like is the large removable sleeve used to protect the finger scanner. I like USB drives that slide the body out or have flip-out hinges. That way, there's no cover to lose.


I don't think it's uncommon for people to leave USB drives in desk drawers, in the pockets of clothing headed for the wash, in car seats or under couch cushions. I've lost more than my share of flash drives to absentmindedness over the past several years, so I want any USB drive I own to have excellent security -- but still be simple to use. This drive absolutely fulfills that need.

The Defender F200 defends against unauthorized data access with two-factor identity authentication -- in other words, it demands two passwords -- and the aforementioned biometric finger scanner. The nice thing about this drive is that you can choose to use the security measures or eliminate the ones you don't want. For example, I chose to use only the fingerprint reader on my evaluation unit.

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