One of the first truly OS-independent secure USB drives. (September 5th, 2009)
Apricorn's Aegis Padlock is a portable USB hard drive, but one that looks like it came from a spy film: its front is dominated by a giant keypad lock. We hope to see how well that security works in practice.
Product Manufacturer: Apricorn
Price: $160 (500GB, 256-bit encryption)
- Truly "invisible" when locked.
- No noticeable slowdowns in use.
- Good build quality.
- Real OS independence.
- Extra software-based security would be helpful.
features and build quality
Apricorn offers the Padlock in 250GB, 320GB, and 500GB capacities with your choice of 128-bit or 256-bit encryption. Our review unit is the flagship Padlock model boasting 500 GB of storage and full 256-bit AES encryption, though we wish the company would make the 256-bit encryption standard; it's a small change that shouldn't add a $20 premium for the same storage.
Right away, the Padlock has a noteworthy change in design compared to most other drives: it has a short USB cable fixed on the drive that that securely clips into the side of the hard disk for storage. Some portable drives have this, but it's always pleasing when it appears.
The build quality of all of the components is very high. The keys on the front of the padlock are large and they provide good tactile response. The only user feedback on the unit is a small LED that changes from red, to blue, to green based on the status of the hard drive. To preserve data integrity in the event of a drop or spill the Padlock also sports some shock-dampening internal supports.
When plugging the Padlock into a computer for the first time, the system (which can run Linux, Mac OS X or Windows) doesn't even recognize that the hard drive is attached. Not until the user enters their password will the hard drive actually power up the USB connection and be accessible. As soon as the Padlock is unplugged from the computer it automatically relocks itself and will need the password once again. Once the password is entered, the Padlock functions just like any other external drive. We experienced no noticeable speed delays during our testing, despite the encryption, and found file copy speeds to be acceptable.
All administration of the Padlock is done via the keypad. Trying to memorize the keystrokes to access and manipulate all of the menus could be cumbersome, but with the directions in front of us we found the administrative features easy to operate. The Padlock can handle up to ten user passwords and can vary their length from six to 16 characters. In the event that all passwords are lost or the unit must be reset, all data on the Padlock will be erased as the drive must be reformatted and repartitioned to be functional -- a permanent but potentially career-saving policy.
As such, Apricorn's drive is for all intents and purposes uncrackable, or at least until it's mounted. That remains the one weak point: if a physical or network-only attack occurs while the drive is unlocked, it's about as vulnerable to data theft as an unguarded drive. That said, there are ways to protect individual files once they're exposed, and the majority of data theft seen with USB drives occurs when they're stolen, not when they're plugged in.
Our top-end unit retails for $160. Even when considering the price drop for a 128-bit version, other 2.5-inch portable hard disks with comparable storage can be found for around $100. But assuming hardware encryption is a must-have, we would say that the $40 to $60 price premium for keypad controlled encryption is reasonable. With a three year warranty, a variety of capacities, and advanced hardware encryption we think the Aegis Padlock line is a good value for the extra layer of security. The shock protection and build quality simply refine the experience further. If highly secure, yet portable data storage is what you're looking for, this is likely your first choice.