Tools Of The Trade: The Amacom secure hard disk

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The Independent Online

The fear of losing valuable data from a computer is a completely understandable one. The risk is especially high for mobile workers and laptop users: there is always a chance of either losing a machine or falling victim to a thief.

The fear of losing valuable data from a computer is a completely understandable one. The risk is especially high for mobile workers and laptop users: there is always a chance of either losing a machine or falling victim to a thief.

Basic security measures, such as setting a start-up password, will go some way to protecting information on a laptop. But anyone hand-ling valuable data will want to look at more robust techniques.

Keeping data on an external hard disk is a convenient option and a good way to boost storage on a computer, especially for laptops with relatively small internal drives. But these disks do pose a security risk, not least because they can be picked up and plugged straight into another computer.

The encryp2disk from Amacom is a small, portable external hard drive that offers a solution. All the data on the hard disk is encrypted, making it impossible for anyone to read the information if it falls into the wrong hands.

The device works by using a physical encryption key to protect the data. This key fits into a connection on the back of the drive. Remove it, and there is no way of reading the contents.

Amacom supplies two keys and sensibly suggests that users keep one somewhere secure, such as a safe. It also offers a key-replacement service where users can register their details, although this costs £25.

The idea is a good one. Someone working partially from home, for example, could keep one encryption key in the office and one at home, protecting their data on the move. The keys could also be used to protect information that has to be sent by courier between offices.

Unfortunately, the encryp2disk did not perform well in practice. It connects to a USB2 port and draws its power from the port, making it easy to use on the move. But the device draws more power than some computers can supply from a single USB connection. The way round this is to use a special cable that connects to two ports, but it is clumsy.

In use, the encryp2disk also proved less than reliable. The drive was liable to lock up, especially when copying large files. Although it comes in a 40GB portable version, it proved impossible to write even 500MB files to the disk.

It could well be that the disk's encryption software could not keep up, but the skimpy documentation shed no light on the problem. Worse still, when the drive locks up, it also crashes the host computer.

The encryp2disk is a good idea, but one let down by reliability problems. As things stand, it is hard to recommend the device. This is a shame, as many laptop users will be on the lookout for a way to secure the information stored on their machines.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Pros: encryption through removable keys.

Cons: unreliable in tests.

Cost: £112 (ex VAT) for 40GB.

Contact: www.amacom-tech.com

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