Review: 7 secure USB drives

Should you trust these flash drives to safeguard your data?

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The Corsair Survivor

In a world of push and slide or pop-off flash drive ends, Corsair may have inadvertently developed the perfect security feature for its Survivor GT. The aluminum barrel is capped by two seemingly immutable ends -- immune to pushing, sliding or yanking.

So how does the Survivor GT connect to your PC's USB port? The drive actually screws in and out of a protective barrel.

Security features

Survivor uses TrueCrypt 4.3 encryption software, which is a 256-bit AES encryption method operating in the XEX-based Tweaked CodeBook mode. The 256-bit AES encryption protocol has become the standard for secure drives at this point, but TrueCrypt's implementation is possibly an overly onerous application for the average joe.

The setup is fairly easy if you follow along with the Beginner's Tutorial. It will walk you through all of the steps needed to setup a TrueCrypt "container," which is simply a secure area of storage on the flash drive that you can make either visible or invisible to prying eyes. (Just don't select an existing volume or folder name. It doesn't become encrypted; it gets erased if you do.)

Encryption options come next, including your selection of available hash algorithms. If you're not up to speed on those things, the pre-chosen defaults are plenty secure for the average potentially careless owner. The onerous password selection assails you immediately thereafter and, the more closely you follow TrueCrypt's recommendations, the more secure your data will be.

The software has a 93-page electronic user manual, recommends a 20+ character password (to a maximum of 64) that includes non-alpha or numeric characters, and has a paragraph on "Plausible Deniability" that begins, "In case an adversary forces you to reveal your password," and then goes on to describe that TrueCrypt leaves no visible fingerprint on your drive or files to indicate protected data exists, so you can disavow that there is any. It all works in the long run, but in most cases, the user won't be a member of the Special Forces carrying covert ops information (see "Civil liberties groups sue feds to get info on laptop searches by border agents").

Speed, pricing and the bottom line

The Survivor is available in 4GB through 32GB versions in two models: the plain old Survivor and the GT iteration that Corsair describes as providing "fast data transfer using performance IC-paired memory and controllers." In all honesty, it's relatively fast at 25.1MB/sec. burst and 23.6MB/sec. for average read (according to Hd Tach), but Corsair's older Voyager GT is noticeably faster.


The Corsair Survivor

Corsair Survivor's TrueCrypt software makes the drive only compatible with Windows Vista, XP, and 2000.

Pricing for the Corsair Survivor on PriceGrabber ranges from $30 for a 4GB model to $108 for a 16GB model.

While this drive's security features can be difficult to follow at times, is true to its name: Survivor. It's much larger than the other drives, but it's priced very reasonably by comparison and offers capacities well above the other drives tested. --Bill O'Brien

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