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For those who don't know, USB flash drives (FDs) are portable devices for storing electronic data (sometimes referred to as USB keys or memory sticks). FDs typically have two functions. First, they are used to back-up important files, i.e. to store a second copy of the original file in case of data-loss. Indeed, anyone who has experienced the aftermath of a data-loss disaster - weeping, frothing and foaming at the mouth, and violent acts directed towards one's computer - will recognise the value in this. Second, FDs provide a portable solution for transporting data if one works with multiple computers in multiple locations.
But what happens if you lose your FD? This is not a problem for most types of data. You'll have the original copy stored on your laptop or computer, you'll buy another FD and create another back-up. If, however, your FD contains highly confidential or sensitive data, then losing it will drop you into a large pot of poo and result in a fast-track ticket to the nearest dole queue. NOT if you have an Ironkey!
In common with other FDs, the Ironkey can be used to back-up important files, and to transport data for use with multiple computers. The Ironkey differs, however, in that it brings an unprecedented level of security to your data. Let me explain.
The Ironkey is the sort of device that M from the Bond movies would be proud of. Indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking that M had a hand in its design. To look at, it's rather plain. Thin and rectangular in shape, it is three inches long, and half an inch wide. Carrying it in one's pocket can feel quite uncomfortable due to its relatively sharp edges. In this case, however, it's what's on the inside that matters: a military level security cryptochip, that protects ANYONE or ANYTHING from gaining access to the data contained within. According to the manual, the Ironkey is also waterproof and resistant to extreme environments. Impressed? I was!
If someone tries to tamper with your Ironkey - e.g. a pesky hacker - the cryptochip will, and I quote from the manual, "initiate a self-destruct sequence"! NO... it will NOT explode and shower said tamperer in debris like a scene from the 60's show the Avengers. Less spectacularly, but equally as effective, it will permanently erase all data using "flash-trash" technology. Very nifty!
The Ironkey is incredibly easy to use. You plug it into one of the USB ports on your laptop or computer, and a few moments later the Ironkey login will appear on the bottom right of your screen. On first use, you will be asked to set a password. At this point, it is incredibly important to write it down! I say this because if you forget your password, you will be given a total of 10 chances to enter it correctly before all your data gets flushed (FLASHed??) down the electronic toilet bowl. Indeed, beads of sweat will form across your brow in panic, as each failed attempt is greeted with "You have X more attempts before your Ironkey will permanently self-destruct". You do not want to be in that predicament!
At this point, I will mention the encrypted virtual keyboard. Fancy! This is a keyboard appearing on your computer screen, that can be accessed when prompted to enter your Ironkey password. You can choose to enter your password with your physical keyboard, i.e. the one in front of you, OR you can choose extra security by clicking the letters on the encrypted keyboard with your mouse. This is helpful if you are using the key on an unfamiliar computer and want to avoid detection from key loggers, etc.
After entering your password, you will be directed to the Ironkey control panel. Here, you can create an encrypted file containing everything on your Ironkey directly onto your laptop or PC. This is very handy, in case your Ironkey is stolen and not returned. If this happened, you would have to restore the encrypted file to a new Ironkey in order to gain access. Additionally, whilst I am on the topic of thievery, a further option on the control panel is to create a "Lost and Found" tag. Here, you can enter your contact details, in case someone were to find your Ironkey and wished to return it. Neat! The Ironkey control panel also contains a copy of the user's guide. And I should add that it the Ironkey can be used with Windows XP, Vista, Mac and Linux OS, and does not install any drivers or software onto your computer.
My Ironkey can store up to 2GB of data. I should add, however, that although my key is 2GB, when I looked at the file space prior to use, it said 1.83GB. Hmmmnnn. Perhaps someone had skilfully managed to access my Ironkey and had stolen storage space!? Paranoid!
Finally, the price. Expect to pay through your back teeth for one of these Bond-esque beauties. In my case, my employer paid the grand sum of £80. The price gets even higher for keys with greater storage space.
If you are working with highly sensitive or confidential data, then the price of the Ironkey is, in my opinion, worth it. I've never seen this level of security in any other USB FD!!! I would therefore highly recommend it for those who use this sort of data. If, however, you are looking for a FD to store your Christmas shopping list, then I would seriously considering looking at a cheaper, less secure option!!! All in all, a great buy!!!