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3/22/2006
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Review: DataTraveler Elite--Privacy Edition

Kingston's latest USB flash drive offers security-conscious travelers a way to keep sensitive data away from prying eyes.

USB flash drives have replaced floppy drives as the easiest way to carry your data with you — and as one of the most easily misplaced pieces of technology in your briefcase. How often have you left that tiny USB drive still plugged into the your client's PC, or in a hotel room drawer, or on a table at Starbuck's?

If you do lose your USB drive, of course, you can always replace it — while you're wondering if anybody is reading your business's quarterly reports, or picking your social security number off of that letter to your accountant. Kingston Technologies is now offering a new USB drive that, it says, will solve that problem by making the data on your USB drive inviolable.

The DataTraveler Elite - Privacy Edition (also called DTE Privacy) does this by offering 128-bit hardware-based AES encryption, along with a somewhat complicated password policy. The drive comes in 256 MB, 512 MB, 1 GB, 2 GB, and 4 GB models, ranging in price from $48 to $347.

Password Protection
The first time you plug the DTE Privacy into your USB port, a window pops up that asks you to create a password from six to 16 characters long that contains at least three specific attributes chosen from upper-case letters, lower-case letters, digits, and special characters. After that, every time you plug in the DTE Privacy drive, a popup appears asking for the password.




Kingston's DataTraveler Elite - Privacy Edition USB key encrypts data and password-protects access to it.

You can also add an optional hint (you only get 16 characters for the hint, which I found a bit miserly). And keeping in mind that there are some honest people out there who might want to return your missing device, Kingston gives you the option of entering contact information that appears on the Login popup.

Otherwise, the DTE Privacy acts like a normal USB 2.0 flash drive. Since the encryption is hardware-based, the related file takes up very little space — on the 2GB review unit, only 128KB. An icon on your taskbar lets you reset the password, edit your owner information, browse the contents of the device, and format the drive.

Forgot Your Password? Tough Luck
Of course, this means that if you're not good about storing your passwords, you can be in a lot of trouble. You get 25 chances to figure out the password — a reasonable number, because it prevents the irritating "strike three and you're out" syndrome (which has sent me running to tech support more than once after three mistypings of a password), but prevents serious password hacking. After the 25 tries are up, the drive is automatically formatted, all data erased, and you are invited to provide a new password. (If, by the way, you absolutely can't remember the password, but don't want to give it 25 tries, you can simply hit the "Forgot my password" button and the drive will automatically reformat and let you create a new password.)

The only problem I found in the DTE Privacy was one of semantics. A "Shutdown DTE Privacy" choice on the taskbar menu doesn't actually also close off access to the drive (which is what I assumed); it just prepares the device for removal. Users who tend to walk away from their systems may want to keep that in mind.

On the whole, though, the DTE Privacy USB drive is a good choice for individuals and companies that want to keep their data safe. You won't be able to stop somebody else from using the drive, but at least they won't be able to use your files as well.


DataTraveler Elite - Privacy Edition
Kingston Technology Co.
www.kingston.com
Price: $48 (256 MB) , $75 (512 MB), $119 (1 GB), $222 (2 GB), $347 (4 GB)
Summary: Kingston's latest USB drive offers high-level encryption and a complex password-protection scheme.

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