What is an Encrypted Drive?
We live in the world of cutting-edge computer technologies and lots of users might be able to hack your computer and spill the beans. For this reason, people do not feel protected against sensitive data leak and try to store their content on external drives. For every person, sensitive information may mean different data, ranging from photos or films they store on a drive to some top secret papers that should be hidden from public view. Fortunately, the problem of information integrity may be solved by purchasing an encrypted drive. This unit is not just an ordinary HDD device where you can store your content. The encrypted drives are the units with high-grade security and they protect your sensitive data using special encryption methods. Moreover, some manufacturers include password protection or provide added security by embedding a fingerprint scanner to gain access to information on your device. You can always carry a drive with you as such devices are lightweight and portable. Thus, if you've lost an encrypted drive or it has been stolen, you can be sure that no one will access your device without entering the right PIN. However, we do recommend you to not forget your password as most models will delete all the information after a certain number of incorrect password entries.
But if you don't require such an advanced data protection level and need a device that will provide you with additional disk space, you can read our review on external hard drives.
What Features to Compare
The most important feature you need to consider when purchasing an encrypted drive is its Type and Capacity. The capacity of an encrypted drive is a feature that tells you how much data you can store on a device. The volume of data storage ranges from several gigabytes to several terabytes hence, you may choose the drive with the capacity that will satisfy your needs. The next parameter to take into consideration is the type of an encrypted drive. There are 2 major types available on the market: a hard drive and a flash drive. A hard drive is a heavyish device about the size of a palm that comprises several spinning platters and a roving head. The head is meant to read the data that have been magnetically imprinted on the platters. On the other hand, a flash drive is a fairly small device about the size of a thumb. Flash drives refer to solid-state memory chips and have no moving parts, thus, they are known to last longer. But the main difference between these 2 types is that hard drives offer a lot more storage space than flash drives, however, they are more expensive.
Next thing you should consider is the Data Transfer Rate of an external drive. This figure determines how fast the data can be transferred from/to a USB drive. This parameter is quite important for those who work with large volumes of data and want to gain time. The transfer rate primarily depends on what type of USB interface is used: it can be either USB 2.0 or USB 3.0.
- USB 2.0 - the maximum data transfer rate reaches 480 Mbit/s. To increase the rate, the devices with USB 2.0 may feature external eSATA interface. Hence, eSATA is capable of increasing the data transfer rate up to 3.0 Gbit/s
- USB 3.0 - provides a data transfer rate up to 5.0 Gbit/s. This interface becomes more and more popular these days. USB 3.0 is compatible with USB 2.0 interface if your computer doesn't provide a built-in high-speed port.
As regards a hard drive, the data transfer rate also depends on several parameters:
- Spindle rotation speed - modern hard disk drives have a spindle rotation speed of 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM. But there are also devices boasting the speed of up to 15000 RPM. So, the higher the speed is, the faster a hard drive reads and writes data.
- Cache size - usually ranges between 8 Mb and 64 Mb. Cache - is reserved memory that stores data a computer most commonly requests for. The larger the cache size is, the faster a hard drive accesses memory.
Another feature people pay attention to is the Size and Design of an encrypted drive. These parameters determine the physical shape and portability (weight, dimensions) of a device. It should be mentioned that the external encrypted hard drives are either portable or desktop. A portable one works directly off the USB port and can be easily moved around. While a desktop encrypted drive requires a connection to the mains (via a power adapter) and is perfect for home use. The size or the form factor of a hard drive is measured in inches. Generally, the form factor of the hard drive disks varies from 2.5 inches to 3.5 inches (the size of a magnetic disc inside the casing). So, the smaller the form factor is, the more lightweight the hard drive is. However, flash drives are significantly smaller than hard drives, so you can carry them wherever you go.
Also, you surely need to pay attention to such feature as Protection of a drive. The devices have 2 main ways of gaining an access to data on a drive. So, some producers enable password protection - a user enters a password on a drive's housing or using a client software. Others include a fingerprint scanner on a device. As regards the data encryption, it is hardware-based and conforms to the Advanced Encryption Standard (FIPS PUB 197). AES is available in many encryption packages and the only publicly accessible cipher approved by the National Security Agency. So, AES is an international data encryption algorithm with different key and block sizes. Where each block has the size of 128 bits and three different key lengths: 128, 192 and 256 bits. AES offers 3 main encryption algorithms:
- ECB (Electronic Code Book) - the simplest encryption mode. It doesn't hide data patterns well and it doesn't provide serious message confidentiality.
- CBC (Cipher Block Chaining) - the common encryption mode used in many various applications. It eliminates protection weaknesses the ECB mode concedes.
- XTS - one of the strongest encryption algorithms. Provides greater data protection over the other block cipher modes, such as CBC and ECB.
The encrypted drives may also have additional protection features against external factors such as dust-proof-and-moisture-proof, shock-resistance, anti-tamper security, antitheft protection.