It seems as if every time you look at the news, someone has hacked a site, or breached security at a corporation. In some cases, people have lost or had stolen laptops with sensitive or even Top Secret data. In a world where information has become one of the most important resources, security and vulnerability have become even more important.
Addressing this issue is seldom simple, and there’s always a compromise that has to be made between ease-of-access and enhanced security.
One solution is to simply store secure information in the cloud and download it when you need to access or work with it. That puts the data somewhere other than on the physical laptop, but requires that you have cloud access when you want or need to access the secure information. And, if the files are large, can be frustratingly slow even with 4G broadband.
Another solution is biometric access. Fingerprint readers and even facial recognition in lieu of a password is exceedingly common these days. This approach is convenient — you always have your face, and hopefully your finger(s) with you. But it’s really not that hard to pull a hard drive out of a laptop and bypass any need for a password.
At the present time, the most secure approach to data security is encryption. Even 256-bit encryption can be broken, but unless your laptop falls into the hands of one of the three-letter intelligence agencies, it’s pretty unlikely that files encrypted with 256-bit AES/XTS encryption algorithms are going to be accessible.
You could encrypt the entire hard drive, and many users do exactly that. But unless you have a lot of sensitive data on your hard drive, encrypting your playlists and MP3 files seems a lot like building a barn to house a hamster.
Security Without The Overkill
Rather than jump through hoops to protect data that really doesn’t need protecting, why not segregate the information that needs additional security, and provide vigorous measures to secure just that?
Apricorn’s Aegis Bio 3.0 portable hard drive approaches the security problem in just that way. It applies both fingerprint biometric access to the drive, and also hardware encrypts all of the data on the drive automatically.
The drive itself is rectangular, and measures 4.7 x 3.3 x 0.75-inches, almost exactly the same size as the Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex drive I used for comparison. Both are USB 3.0 models, and are powered by the USB 3.0 bus. Since the drive is backwards compatible with earlier versions of USB, which may not supply as much current to the USB port, Apricorn supplies an adapter cable which plugs into two USB ports to supply additional power to the drive.
A nice feature is that an attached USB cable stores in a slot along the right side of the drive. You never have to remember to pack a USB cable, or look for one when you want to use the drive. Of course, this is also a potential point of failure since all cables wear out over time and there is no way to replace this one since it’s built into the drive.
Other than a trio of different colored LEDs above a fingerprint scanner and a small pushbutton underneath the reader, the drive is pretty much indistinguishable from any other portable USB hard drive.
The Aegis Bio 3.0 comes in three capacities: 500GB ($199), 750GB ($219) and the 1TB model I tested ($249). The drive used in the Aegis Bio 3.0 is a 5400 RPM model, and the fingerprint sensor and chip is from AuthenTec. The Aegis Bio 3.0 uses AES-XTX encryption. More information on this encryption is available on the NIST (National Institute of Standards) web site, which is the organization that codifies encryption (and other) standards.
Fortunately, you don’t need to know how it works to use it. Data is automatically encrypted before it’s written to disk, and unencrypted before it’s transferred between the drive and a laptop or PC.