Sunday, May 26, 2013

Review: Kanguru Defender Basic Hardware Encrypted USB Stick

Cloud storage is great, but there are times when you need to physically carry data files around with you. Sure, you can save the files to a USB stick (aka thumb drive / flash drive), hang it on your key chain, and you're good to go. But not so fast: If the data is confidential or sensitive, how are you going to protect it? You could save all the data in an encrypted Zip file, but that's a tedious process, especially if you make frequent changes to the data. Or you could implement software-based encryption on the entire drive, if you're a serious propellerhead with time to kill. But by far the easiest (and probably the most secure) method is to use a hardware-encrypted USB stick to store your data. This type of device has an embedded processor on the drive itself, which automatically encrypts and decrypts data as it is stored to and read from the drive.

I've been using the Kanguru Defender Basic for several weeks now, and I like it a lot. I picked up the 16 GB model from Amazon for less than $50. It is available in capacities from 4 GB to 128 GB and features 256-bit AES hardware encryption, which is strong enough for the National Security Agency. (Even with a supercomputer, it would take 3.31 x 1056 years to crack the encryption, which is more than the age of the universe.) Let's just say that if you've got enemies that can crack 256-bit AES, then you've probably got problems with advanced alien civilizations.

The setup is a bit clunky -- but once properly configured, it's easy and transparent to use on any Windows or Mac PC. The storage device comes with two partitions, one of which contains the Kanguru Defender Manager (KDM) software, which enables the device to work on any computer without installation. During initial setup, you're prompted to set the device password: Obviously, you'll want to choose a strong and unique password. The device will wipe all data if an incorrect password is entered 7 times in a row.

Windows users also have the option of activating real-time virus scanning on the device -- which is a handy plus. But beware: The initial download of the virus signatures takes several minutes, and the only indication that this is happening is the blinking of the read/write LED on the device.

Kanguru offers a cloud-based remote management service (think of it as "Find My USB Drive"), but it's not available on the consumer-level Defender Basic models. Unfortunately, the setup software doesn't seem aware of this, and blithely encourages you to sign up anyway. Just ignore it.

Once set up, using the drive is as easy as plugging it in. In Windows XP, it auto-runs KDM and asks for your password. In Windows7, you have to click on the KDM icon to start it up. Once it's running, you can simply drag and drop files to save them to the encrypted drive. When you're done, first unmount the drive using the KDM utility, and then "eject" the drive using Windows Explorer. That's all there is to it.