Review: 7 secure USB drives

Should you trust these flash drives to safeguard your data?

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The Lexar JumpDrive Secure II Plus

When it comes to securing data on a flash drive, ease of use can be nearly as important as, say, encryption -- if the security features are too hard to use, you won't bother to use them. As a result, 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 I tested actually only comes with 922MB free, because it needs 80MB for its utility software -- not a huge factor when purchasing larger capacity models.

Security features

This memory stick uses 256-bit AES, software-based encryption in CBC mode. When I inserted the drive into my test laptop, I were immediately presented with the Dashboard -- a four-item menu of options (create a vault, encrypt files, shred files and change settings).

If you want to protect a large group of files, you'll want to create a "vault." Vaults are folders you define on the drive itself. You give the vault a name and specify a password (from eight to 32 characters using any combination of letters, numbers and characters).

As you enter your password, a graphic 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.

After establishing your password, you 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" since the drive itself was "E").

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 tells you to simply delete the vault using a file manager. I 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 my case -- and find the Vaults folder, then find the name of your vault and delete it there.)

To protect data you no longer need, you can shred it. The Shred command from the Dashboard opens a small window in which you can choose to shred in the Recycle Bin or shred your free space or individual files (as long as they're not in a vault). The file shredding utility simply writes over a file after it's been deleted.

Encrypting individual files, the third protection option, is far more tedious. You open the Dashboard, choose File Encryption, click the Encrypt Files tab, either 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 a few seconds for the file to be encrypted. Secure II adds an LRS extension to the file name, and your file manager changes the icon to help you recognize it as an encrypted file. Unencrypting the file the same process in reverse.


Lexar JumpDrive Secure II Plus

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. 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.

It's also 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 an .LRS file, 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 becomes frustratingly tedious.

Speed, pricing and the bottom line

The Lexar JumpDrive isn't particularly speedy. In our Hd Tach tests we measured an average read speed of 15.5MB/sec., average CPU usage at 7% and burst speed of 15.9MB/sec. I copied a 909MB AVI file to the drive itself (the unencrypted E drive) in three minutes, 55 seconds. When I created a vault of the same material (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 my hard drive -- the unencrypted E drive -- and seven seconds when launched from the vault.

The JumpDrive Secure II Plus comes in 512MB, 1GB, 2GB, 4GB and 8GB versions and is compatible with Windows XP and Vista.

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.

So-so performance and overly complicated processes don't make me jump for (storage) joy with the Lexar JumpDrive. -- Rich Ericson

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