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Imation Biometric Hard Drive - March 2011
by Robert Sanborn

For several years, I have carried with me an external hard drive full of utilities, anti-virus programs, and the like for when I help people with their computer problems.  I would go out and buy a notebook hard drive, then a shell from a company like Antec and have myself an external USB Drive. Today, you can buy external drives from everywhere. I like the external drives better than the USB memory sticks for a couple of reasons; one being that memory sticks tend to get lost and the second is that you just can’t buy a memory stick with enough storage on it.

The problem has been though the fear of losing the drive. Even worse, when working on a computer, one of the first things I will do is to make a backup of the data files and want to keep them there till I get them converted to DVD or some other media. So, I need a secure option and I wasn’t satisfied with some of the software options of encrypting that are available and I have tried a bunch of them.

So last year, I found a really cool solution. It was the InWin Ammo external hard drive shell that you put your own notebook drive in it, seal it up, and then when you turn on the encryption using the two RFID key fobs, it secures everything inside the drive.  After the drive is secured, the only way to get the data is with one of the two RFID key fobs. Lose them, and your drive is toast. So what I do is to put one of them on my car key ring, keep the other one safe at home and I am good to go.  And it works great.  You plug the drive into the computer; the little indicator light is red, pass one of the RFID keys over it to turn it green, and the computer finds it. Yet, I am nervous to use it because when I first got the unit, one of the RFID keys would not work so I had to send it back for replacement and still today, one of the keys takes several times before it is recognized.  So, I went looking for something else.

What caught my eye at CES was that Imation has come out with their own secure external hard drive system.   Check out their website: http://www.imation.com/en-us/Imation-Products/Defender-Collection/H-200-Bio/

The H200 Biometric Hard drive is a small compact shell that is very well put together to stand the constant thrashing around that it will take in the bottom of my travel case which goes nearly everywhere with me.  It is about 5 inches long by 3.5 inches wide, by an inch high and weighs really nothing. All of the edges and ends are protected by industrial strength rubber and are rounded so it won’t put a dent into anything else. The casing itself feels like a heavy duty aluminum and could handle the abuse it will suffer in the bottom of my travel bag.  Even the shipping packaging was impressive with the use of very heavy duty foam to surround the drive. If I was really worried about traveling with the drive, I would be inclined to take the box with me as well.  The only connector on the drive is for a mini-USB plug. It comes with its own USB cable that has the mini-USB plug on one end and on the other, a two headed standard USB connector, one grey and one black.  According to the very simple “Getting Started” guide that comes with it, you need both plugs if the computer you are attaching it to does not generate enough power through the USB connector for the drive.

There are three very tiny LED lights on the drive. The first is the “Authentication and Data Transfer” light. If it is flashing green, it is waiting for a finger to be scanned, and if it is solid green, it has connected and accepted the scan. If it is red, you are in trouble, consul t the user guide which is on the “CD” drive part of the partition. The next LED is the power status; a solid yellow indicates it has enough power from the USB port to operate properly.  Flashing or no yellow indicates not enough power or you need to use both USB connectors.  The last is the data transfer and if it is flashing blue, it means data is going back and forth.

So you start by just connecting the black USB connector to your computer and in my case, when I did, a yellow led flashed, then a green one, and then two windows popped up on my computer asking me if I want to run the new “CD E drive” application that it found and if I wanted to open the “Locked (G:)” drive. So, I ignored the G Drive and allowed the application to run to get the drive setup. What starts is the Imation Defender Access software and first you have to insert an administrative password. It doesn’t really tell me what it will use this password for so I plugged one in and went on to the screen that asks me how many fingers I want to scan.  A little advice here would have been helpful as well so I chose 4, do two fingers from each hand.  You select which finger from the layout on the screen, and scan the finger.  There is a Help button but the information is not all that helpful as it told me that we could enroll a total of 10 fingers among all the users registered on the device. Come to find out, there are two versions of the Access software and what comes with the retail version is the Standard which is for a single user.  You select a finger, hit next, and it asks you to scan it five times and repeat the process till you have scanned in the number of fingers selected.

Next is the main menu of the program.  Here you can explore device settings, partitions, users, and more including setting up new users and fingerprint scans.  One of the options is to “Recycle” the device and what that does is to completely wipe it clean as if you just opened the box.  If you exit, unplug the drive, plug it back in, the next time you see a green flashing light, scan your finger and you have access to the private drive section.  It appears that by default, the entire drive, except for the part that is the ghost CD when you plug it in for management, is turned into your private drive. There is no option for resizing the partitions and I would have liked to do that to leave part of the drive unprotected but Imation makes a very good case that it is far more secure to have all the drive secure because if you don’t, people have a tendency to put secure data on the unsecure portion. So, I can easily live with that. If you plug the drive in without scanning, it comes up as a “Locked” drive with nearly no storage in it.

Take it over to another computer and plug it in. if you ignore the start up partition and just scan your finger when the light blinks green, you get your access to the “Private” drive of the near 500GB of storage. On my second computer, I didn’t need to plug in both USB connectors. I suspect on an older machine, I will need to.  From there, reading and writing is just like any other USB external drive.

I am familiar with using fingerprint secured device with my Swiss Army USB Memory stick but again, I limit my use of that device because of its size and my worry about losing it. While that USB stick is up to 32GB of storage, for backing up a computer, I really need more and so while it is cool having the Swiss Army Knife USB Drive, the Imation +Bio Hard Drive is much more useful to me.

The drive comes in a 250, 320, and 500GB size format and is available most everywhere drives are sold.  So, how secure is the drive? From the Imation website:

FIPS 140-2, Level 3 Validation - Meet the most demanding regulatory requirements for the Federal Information Processing Standarization (FIPS) 140-2, Level 3 validation with the Imation Defender H200 Biometric Hard Drive. - Level 3 - This level exceeds Level 1 and 2 requirements, and adds physical tamper-resistance and identity-based authentication. AES 256-bit Hardware Encryption - Protect your data with the hardware-based 256-bit AES encryption implemented in Cipher Block Chain (CBC) mode, which is activated each time the USB flash drive is in use.

Now another interesting thing about the security is that when you first create the user account, you give it a master password that allows you to, add and delete, and change users but you cannot get into the user account unless you use the fingerprint scanner.  Of course, if the scanner goes bad, you are toast so make sure if you keep something on this drive, you have a copy elsewhere and in fact, you should do that as a routine process with any external drive you have, no matter if it is encrypted or not.

If you log in through the Access program, it creates a minimized to the tray shield icon that allows you to bring up the Access manager software where you can delete the user, check the status of the device, and recycle it.  This drive is very well built, solid, and if not that intuitive to setup, easy to use. The documentation could be a little more complete and they could offer more tips about what choices you should make in setting it up, but when I went through the setup, it went very well and it works very well.  It is easy to travel with, easy to use, and though a bit pricy at $449 for the 500GB version from Office Max, it should easily survive its five year warranty and probably all the abuse I will heap on it while traveling. If securely traveling with your data is critical to you, then I highly recommend this drive.

Robert Sanborn
robert@pcll.com

 

 


 

 

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