How to keep your data safe on a budget

I’ve recently decided to move my business out of my family’s home, to a nearby office building. While this is very convenient in many ways, it also meant I had to find a way to move data to and from there safely. As a web freelancer, I feel it’s my responsibility to keep client data very secure. Not only do I not want to lose it, I also need it to remain private. That’s why I looked into things like RFID protected and rugged harddrives.

There are two distinct threats I wanted to keep my data safe from. One is from data loss through drive failure. I’m going to be taking it with me every day, so I needed a sturdy drive that could take some (accidental) abuse. The other threat is theft. I wanted the contents of the disc to be protected in case it fell into the wrong hands. It was essential for me that I’d be able to use the device on Windows, Mac and Linux computers, which rules out most products that use software encryption.

Freecom Mobile Drive Secure

One product that immediately grabbed my attention was the Freecom Mobile Drive Secure. I used their products at a former employer, and they’re great. The ‘Secure’ is an external 2.5″ harddrive that secures data using RFID technology. The supplied tags are used to lock and unlock the drive without the need for additional software. If you’re looking for a ready-made solution, I’d recommend considering the Freecom. However, it’s not very rugged and uses inconvenient creditcard-sized RFID tags. It’s also quite pricey. As it turns out, there are other options.

In-Win Ammo

There are at least two commonly available external “bring your own drive” enclosures that use the same RFID technology as the Freecom. One is the very sleek Silverstone TS01. While renerally regarded as being very sturdy, it’s not designed to be extra tough. In-Win’s Ammo on the other hand is. It’s a drive enclosure that looks like a ammunition clip, and has a US military drop test certification.

In-Win has won the prestigious Red Dot design award for this product, and they carried the military theme all the way through in the packaging. One of the RFID tags is a dog tag, and the back of the manual poster can be used for target practice. While obviously aimed at gamers, I like the Ammo for its features. It’s made from 0.8 mm thick steel and the drive is enclosed in rubber to soften potential blows.

The actual hard drive

The ammo will fit any standard size 2.5 inch hard drive or SSD. I went with a 500GB Samsung M7. They’re cheap, reliable, fast, quiet, and can withstand impacts of up to 400G. While operating. If I remember correctly from an older Mythbusters episode, 50G will kill a human being. Basically, if this drive should be able to easily survive me in case of an accident. Especially when inside the Ammo.

Encryption

The Freecom, Silverstone and In-Win products all use the same chip to handle the RFID protection. Besides making the disc inaccessible without the key tags, it also encrypts whatever you write to the drive. So if someone takes the HDD out of the casing and connects it to a PC, it’ll not spill its beans. Unfortunately, the chip isn’t quite as safe as its advertising suggests. Unlike what you’d expect, the 128 bit AES encryption specified in its specs isn’t used to encode the data on the disc. It’s used to store the RFID codes in the chip, but data is stored using a much less potent algorithm. Most thieves will probably just format the disc, but if an encryption expert really wants the data, he’ll likely get to it.

Truecrypt

That’s where Truecrypt comes in. This brilliant piece of open source software allows you to encrypt hard drives, partitions or disc files using one or more(!) algorythms. You can pretty much make it as secure as you need. As a final step, I created a disc file to keep sensitive information like passwords and such safe. I’ll mount it when working on one of my own computers. The rest of the drive is accessible without Truecrypt. This way I have two levels of data security in a drive that’s a tough as they get.