Review – Hard Drives Continued – Protecting data with Imation and WiebeTech – Part Two – Encryption Based Hard Drives!

Data Encryption

Protecting your data in case of loss is an ever-present problem, and we take a look at hard drives based around that premise. Is it wise to trust our digital lives to our computers? Probably not, but with encryption based flash and external drives this becomes a non-issue. How to solve this problem? For portable use consider using a data encryption hard drives. Encrypted drives have actually been around a while, but rarely have they been truly consumer friendly until now. These drives encrypt your files as you work with them, and once programmed no one can access the files unless they know the password, have an assigned fingerprint, or use a key to unlock them.

Our fellow writer A.D. Coleman discusses this need in his series on tools for the professional writer on the road, the importance of protecting one’s data, yet easily access it when you need it is fast becoming your only defense against theft. The encryption is accomplished either through hardware, or software based. Hardware encryption is the most secure, very fast, but more expensive and can be independent of the need for software on a host computer. Software based schemes encrypt the data using backup software, or with dedicated software. Unfortunately, most of those approaches make it difficult to just plug in a drive and grab a file; instead you have to duplicate an unencrypted version. Still, if you use a drive on the road, this is secure, and fine for backup use. The two approaches we liked the best are included in drives from Imation and WiebeTech.

The Imation Defender Collection secure drives feature a Biometric fingerprint detection system, With the Imation approach, you insert either their Defender F200 Biometric Flash Drive, or their Defender H200 Biometric External Hard Disk Drive portable hard drive, and upon mounting you set up the security parameters for a partitioned part of the drive set aside for your data. The James Bond part comes with a tiny embedded sensor that you swipe your finger across that instantly unlocks the drive. Slick, expensive, but very secure.  You can set one fingerprint, or multiple fingers for additional security. Multiple fingers is more secure, but if a truly nasty foreign power, or an evil ex wanted your data, having multiple finger swipes might mean the loss of more digits. I found myself pretty happy with a single swipe!

As with other encryption schemes even if someone took the drive out of the case, it would be of no use since the data is completely scrambled. They are Mac and Windows compatible, with an Intel based Mac as a requirement. Both drives have a 5-year warranty, are built tough-as-nails, and we found that the F200 Biometric Flash Drive consistently wowed any folks who saw it. With full 256 bit hardware based AES encryption James Bond would be secure in knowing that even Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Goldfinger, or even Dr. Evil couldn’t find his little black book! Total security overkill for the average user? Sure, but so is a Ferrari, BMW, and Mercedes, but that doesn’t stop us from buying and wanting them, but in this case the Imation Defender series is affordable for mere mortals, and unlike that Ferrari actually starts up when you need it.

WiebeTech took another approach with their ToughTech Secure Mini-Q Portable AES Encrypted Enclosure with Anti-Shock Protection, which was to house the drive in a small, tough, all metal enclosure, which has what looks like a mini USB port on the front. And you are right, however only one of them plugs into your computer with a normal USB cable. What about the other little port? It is for a unique small black dongle that unlocks the drive. Lose that dongle, and you are out of luck. Even WiebeTech doesn’t keep backups, and each drive ships with a unique set of dongles. For the truly fanatical, you can purchase a key encoder to make your own keys, which might be handy in a business situation. In day-to-day use, it works great. Plug in the drive, then plug in the dongle, and it becomes a normal hard drive. It’s a bit scary to think that if you lose the dongles that the drive becomes a brick, but that is the price you pay for security. The encryption is AES 128 bit, and the drive comes unusually well equipped, with a power adapter, a full copy of ProSoft’s Data Backup software, and more. With e-SATA, FireWire 800, and USB 2.0 it has fast become a favorite of photographers working on the road.

With the Imation approach, there is nothing to lose, an advantage, but one that requires that your computer have no software conflicts that prevent mounting. With the WiebeTech approach you need that key at all times, and receive a slightly lower level of encryption. Either way, they are both come highly recommended for securing your data and one should consider it impossible for anyone to hack the encryption. As more folks realize the data on their systems has value and serious implications if lost, I think we will see more folks asking for this technology. While the Mac OS ships with File Vault encryption built-in for free on it’s systems, it is uneven in use, with Time Machine backups not a smooth process, nor is the requirement to have about half of your hard drive empty to get rolling. Portable drives seem to get lost more frequently, so the need to protect your data is even more crucial, and Imation and WiebeTech’s use of Whole Disk Encryption (WDE) make it painless. There is a bit of an additional hit on your wallet necessitated by technology that meets the security requirements for the Defense Department. Now, if only Apple and other folks would incorporate WDE into their products at the get go!

Harris Fogel, Posted 12/2/2010

 For more information on the Imation Defender Series visit:

For more information on the WiebeTech ToughTech Secure Mini-Q series visit: