How to Protect Your Data with an Encrypted USB Drive.
Storing sensitive information on an unencrypted USB drive can put the data at risk if the drive is lost, stolen, or copied.
This is why it is a smart decision to use encrypted USB drives to protect sensitive information, including personal information, financial records, cryptocurrency accounts details, or even social media login details.
This way, the information will remain secure even if the drive is not in your possession.
Because, what would be the consequences if someone gets access to or stole the standard USB drive where you keep your CV, bank accounts spreadsheets, photos, or the details for the account that you use to log in to most of your social media accounts?
Encrypted USB drives are a simple, cost-effective, and effective way to protect sensitive information and avoid potential harm.
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How to Choose the Right Encrypted USB Drive for Your Needs
You should consider several factors before purchasing an encrypted USB drive.
– Secure Encryption Type
– Government Validations
– Tamper Proof Design
– Brute Force Attacks Protection
– Dust and Water Protection
– Fast Read and Write
– A Secure and Robust Access Type
Must-To-Have Feature: Secure Encryption Type
AES-256 is considered one of the most secure encryption algorithms available today and is commonly used for protecting sensitive data, both in USB drives and various other applications.
When looking for the most secure encrypted USB drive, it should be mandatory that it is protected by EAS encryption type. And the reasons are:
– Strong Security: AES-256 provides a high level of security, making it very difficult for unauthorized parties to break the encryption and access the data on the USB drive.
– Widely Accepted: AES-256 is an established standard and has been vetted by the cryptographic community and government agencies worldwide. Its reliability and effectiveness are well-known.
– Regulatory Compliance: Many industries and government agencies have specific encryption requirements, and using AES-256 can help meet these compliance standards.
– Long-term Security: As computers and technology advance, encryption methods that were once secure might become vulnerable to new attacks. AES-256 is considered a strong and future-proof choice that will likely remain secure for years to come.
– Versatility: AES-256 is suitable for encrypting various types of data, from individual files to entire drives, making it a versatile encryption option for USB drives.
But, while AES-256 provides robust security, it’s essential to remember that encryption alone is not sufficient for overall data security.
Proper access controls, strong password policies, and physical security of the USB drive are equally crucial to ensure data remains protected.
Must-To-Have Feature: Government Validations
Checking for government validations, such as FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) certifications, when purchasing a USB drive is essential for several reasons:
– Data Security: Government validations ensure that the USB drive meets specific security standards. If you store sensitive or confidential data on the drive, having strong encryption and security measures can protect your information from unauthorized access and potential data breaches.
– Compliance Requirements: In certain industries or government organizations, there may be legal or regulatory requirements regarding data security and the use of validated cryptographic modules. Using government-validated USB drives can help you meet these compliance standards and avoid potential penalties or fines.
– Trustworthiness: Government validations add an extra layer of trust and credibility to the USB drive. These validations mean that the drive’s security features and encryption algorithms have been tested and approved by reputable government agencies, like NIST in the United States.
– Risk Mitigation: Using a validated USB drive reduces the risk of using potentially insecure or low-quality products. Government certifications help you make an informed choice, knowing that the drive has undergone rigorous testing and meets specific security requirements.
– Sensitive Information Handling: If you handle sensitive information, such as financial records, customer data, or intellectual property, using a government-validated USB drive is a responsible approach to safeguarding that information.
– Avoiding Counterfeit or Substandard Products: Checking for government validations can help you avoid counterfeit or substandard USB drives in the market. Some uncertified products might claim to have encryption or security features but might not meet the necessary standards, leaving your data vulnerable.
– Long-term Usability: Government certifications often imply that the USB drive has been thoroughly tested and is likely to be a reliable and durable product. This can be crucial if you plan to use the drive for a long time.
There are two major government validations that reputable encrypted USB drives use. And you should be familiar with them:
– FIPS 140-2: FIPS 140-2 is a comprehensive standard that addresses the overall security of cryptographic modules, including USB flash drives. It offers different security levels (1 to 4), whereas higher levels have more stringent security measures. If you have highly sensitive data and need a USB flash drive with the highest level of security assurance, then you should look for one that is FIPS 140-2 Level 4 certified. Keep in mind that higher security levels often come with additional costs and possibly reduced performance, so it’s essential to balance your security needs with other factors.
– FIPS 197 (AES encryption): AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) is a widely used and well-regarded encryption algorithm. When a USB flash drive is FIPS 197 certified, it means it uses AES encryption, which is considered highly secure. AES is suitable for most general data protection needs, and FIPS 197 certification ensures that the implementation of AES on the device has been tested and approved by NIST.
In general, for the average user, a USB flash drive with FIPS 197 (AES) encryption should provide sufficient security for everyday needs.
However, if you work in a highly regulated industry or deal with extremely sensitive data, you may want to consider a USB flash drive that is both FIPS 140-2 certified.
Must-To-Have Feature: Tamper Proof Design
You most definitely want that your encrypted USB is protected against tampering.
You should strongly consider only purchasing encrypted USB drives coated with epoxy resin.
This is because it is not possible to open it and access the inner parts of the device without destroying it in the process.
There have been cases of people showing on videos how to open an encrypted USB drive with just a screwdriver, connecting some customized hardware and software, and getting access to the files stored in the device.
In short, as mandatory, an encrypted USB drive should be tamper-proof protected. Do not buy any encrypted USB without this feature:
– Data Integrity Protection: Tamper-proof design ensures that the USB drive’s critical components, including encryption keys and firmware, cannot be altered or manipulated. This safeguards the integrity of the data stored on the drive. If the USB drive is tampered with, it will trigger security measures or render the data inaccessible, preventing unauthorized access or modification.
– Unauthorized Access Prevention: A tamper-proof design makes it extremely difficult for attackers to physically tamper with the USB drive to bypass security measures or extract sensitive information. This protection is especially important for USB drives containing confidential data or intellectual property.
– Counteracting Physical Attacks: Encrypted USB drives with tamper-proof features are designed to withstand various physical attacks, such as drilling, cutting, or attempts to pry open the casing. These defenses make it challenging for malicious actors to gain access to the internal components where encryption keys and sensitive data are stored.
– Compliance and Security Standards: Many industries and government regulations require tamper-evident or tamper-resistant designs for devices that handle sensitive data. Compliance with these standards helps organizations demonstrate their commitment to data security and privacy.
– Extended Product Life: Tamper-proofing can contribute to the longevity of the USB drive. By protecting against physical damage or unauthorized attempts to modify the device, it can maintain its security and functionality over an extended period.
Must-To-Have Feature: Brute Force Attacks Protection
Encrypted USB flash drive brute force protection is a security feature designed to safeguard data stored on the USB drive from unauthorized access attempts through a brute force attack.
When possible, you should choose an encrypted USB flash drive that protects both against Brute Force Password Attacks and Bad USB Attacks.
Brute Force Passwords Attacks
A brute force password attack is a method in which an attacker repeatedly and systematically tries all possible combinations of passwords or encryption keys until the correct one is found.
Here’s how brute force protection typically works on an encrypted USB flash drive:
– Failed attempts limitation: The drive will limit the number of incorrect password entries allowed before it locks down or temporarily disables access. For example, after a certain number of failed attempts (e.g., 5 or 10), the drive may enter into a cooldown period during which any further attempts are denied.
– Account lockout: After reaching a predefined number of failed attempts, the drive can enforce a complete lockout, requiring the user to perform additional verification steps (like entering a recovery key or contacting the administrator) to regain access.
– Data erasure: Some encrypted USB drives are designed to automatically erase all data after a certain number of unsuccessful attempts, ensuring that the information is securely wiped in case of repeated unauthorized access attempts.
Bad USB Attacks
Bad USB attacks are a different kind of threat that can compromise the security of USB devices, including encrypted USB flash drives.
A Bad USB attack involves reprogramming the controller chip of a USB device to act maliciously instead of as intended by the manufacturer. This type of attack can occur on any USB device, including flash drives, keyboards, mice, and more.
In the context of encrypted USB flash drives, a Bad USB attack can be particularly dangerous. Here’s how it relates to brute force protection:
– Bypassing Brute Force Protection: A Bad USB attack can potentially bypass the brute force protection mechanisms implemented on the encrypted USB flash drive. Since the attack involves reprogramming the controller chip, the attacker might gain full control over the USB drive, making it possible to ignore any lockout or time delay measures in place.
– Intercepting Passwords: In some Bad USB attacks, the malicious firmware can be programmed to intercept and record the passwords entered by the user. This means that even if the drive has brute force protection, the attacker could capture the correct password during a legitimate login attempt and use it later to access the encrypted data.
– Data Exfiltration: A compromised USB flash drive could be programmed to exfiltrate the encrypted data directly to the attacker once it is connected to a computer. In this case, brute force protection might not matter as the attacker circumvents the encryption entirely.
To defend against Bad USB attacks, manufacturers do implement security measures on the hardware level to prevent unauthorized firmware updates or modifications to the controller chip.
Good-To-Have Feature: Dust and Water Protection
Even the most secure USB drive needs to be protected from accidents, like exposure to heat or water.
Most encrypted USB sticks will get damaged at high temperatures and will not survive a fire. Temperatures over 80 degrees Celsius, or 176 degrees Fahrenheit, may already damage the device.
Documents can be protected using fire-resistant bags because paper can endure heat. But electronics will not survive any significant heat, even if covered by fire-resistant bags.
If your encrypted USB drive contains critical information, you should strongly consider backing up a second encrypted USB drive and storing it in a different location.
An encrypted USB drive should have dust protection for several reasons:
– Data Integrity: Dust and debris can accumulate on the USB drive’s connectors and contacts over time, potentially causing data transfer issues. When data cannot be read or written correctly due to dust interference, it can lead to data corruption and loss. Dust protection helps maintain the integrity of the data stored on the drive by reducing the risk of such issues.
– Longevity and Reliability: Dust can contribute to the wear and tear of the USB drive’s components, potentially leading to premature failure. By keeping dust away from the sensitive electronics inside the drive, dust protection can extend the drive’s lifespan and enhance its overall reliability.
– Security: An encrypted USB drive is often used to store sensitive and confidential information. Dust particles may carry tiny electrical charges or conductive properties that could potentially interfere with the drive’s encryption mechanisms, affecting data security. Ensuring proper dust protection helps maintain the drive’s security measures and ensures that data remains encrypted and protected.
– Consistent Performance: Dust particles can cause connectivity issues between the USB drive and the device it’s plugged into. This can result in slower data transfer speeds and intermittent connections, leading to a subpar user experience. Dust protection ensures consistent performance by minimizing these disruptions.
The IP code defines how well your device will resist water and dust.
If water and duet concern you, you should look for a device rated IP67 or higher.
Good-To-Have Feature: Fast Read and Write
Encrypting the data on a USB drive may slightly affect the speed at which the drive can read and write data.
This is because the encryption process requires additional resources, such as CPU and memory, to encrypt and decrypt the data as it is being accessed.
However, the impact on speed will depend on the specific encryption method used, the hardware and software capabilities of the device, and the amount of data being accessed.
In theory, the performance impact of encryption on a USB drive is not significant for most users.
Modern devices and encryption algorithms are designed to minimize the performance impact of encryption, and most users will not notice a substantial difference in the speed of their USB drives when encrypted.
In reality, if you need to work or transfer with large size files, slow read and write can be a nuisance.
Before purchasing an encrypted usb drive, always check for the read and write speeds. And do NOT take for granted that USB 3.X drives are going to be fast, because this is not always the case.
Good-To-Have Feature: A Secure and Robust Access Type
While it is not a critical factor, like encryption or tamper-proof design, one of the most relevant choices you will have to make is to decide the authentication method that better fits your personal preference.
– Pin authentication: While pin authentication is the simplest form, it is also a very robust and safe way to prevent unauthorized access. Still, very important to take note that the buttons are relatively small, so this method may not suit people with big fingers. Also, ensure that your preferred encrypted USB has a wear-resistant keypad.
– Biometric fingerprint authentication: User fingerprints is a very convenient and fast way to unlock your encrypted USB drive. And an excellent alternative for those with large hands for which a keypad is not an alternative. Still, managing biometrics requires more steps than just setting up a pin, so you should inform yourself about setting up a biometric encrypted USB drive.
– Software authentication: While not very common, some encrypted USBs can be unlocked using a smartphone or even a smartwatch. And this option opens other ways to unlock an encrypted USB drive, like facial or iris recognition.
If you are planning to purchase an encrypted USB for personal use, you will probably not set up different access levels.
Still, it is worth knowing that some models do offer this option. Especially if you are purchasing the encrypted drive for your children or some other family member who may be prone to forget passwords:
– Admin level: The admin level can recover all the data stored in the drive if the user has forgotten the password. This is a handy feature if you buy an encrypted drive for a family member or an employee.
– Read only: If you are buying the encrypted USB for a family member or employee, you may consider limiting the access to read-only.
Remote management is an option that some encrypted USB manufacturers provide, but it is not a free feature.
For most users, remote management is not a needed feature. This is a feature mostly for organizations that provide encrypted drives to their employees and need ultra-strong protection of intellectual data.
– Temporarily disable or reset users: In the event of suspicious activity, the encrypted drive can be remotely accessed to manage users.
– Display user’s location: This is a handy feature in case you have a second drive as a backup stored in a remote location. Because it lets you know if the device is being moved from that location.
– User attempts login: This is a handy feature in case you have a second drive as a backup stored in a remote location. You will know if anyone tries to login into the drive.
– Remote wipe: In case of suspicious activity, you can remotely wipe the device to ensure complete protection of your sensitive data. Plan to have a device backup stored securely, so a remote wipe does not mean losing valuable data.
For more details and available features, as an example, you can consider looking at the iStorage Remote Management page.
Optional Features: Capacity and Cost
Last but not least, the capacity and cost of the encrypted USB drive must also be taken in consideration.
Because it may be a nuisance to purchase the most secure encrypted USB drive just to find out that it quickly runs out of space.
But, the more capacity the drive has, the more expensive is going to be.
Capacity and Cost
What are you planning to store in the encrypted USB drive?
If you plan to only store documents or files on the USB drive, you don’t need a device with a large capacity.
The encrypted USB drives are already relatively expensive, so there is no need to spend extra money on a device with a capacity that you will not use.
And, in a few years, you may purchase a new encrypted USB drive with new safety features.
Best Rated Encrypted USB Drives
If you search the Internet for the best USB drives, you will find many posts with their choices for the best-encrypted USB drives.
It is good to read the opinion of other people but even better to form your own opinion based on your research. This way, you can avoid biased reviews that may lead you to purchase an encrypted drive that does not suit your personal need.
We hope the information we shared in the previous section will allow you to choose the best-encrypted USB drive for your needs.
Still, if you need some orientation, you could search on Amazon for the best-rated ‘encrypted USB drives’ or look at some of the devices we list below.
Note that we don’t endorse any manufacturer or device, and it is up to you to choose the most secure device for your needs.
How to Keep Your Digital Assets Safe
Storing sensitive information in an encrypted USB drive is a very good practice. Congratulations.
Also, you may be interested in increasing your knowledge and learning about digital safety and how to keep your digital assets safe.
And don’t forget to also learn about digital safety good practices because the more good digital safety practices you follow, the more secure your digital assets will be.
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