Kingston DataTraveler BlackBox Review

by Reads (10,927)

by Jerry Jackson

Most businesses have a hard time satisfying their need for both easy electronic file transfers and strict data security. Kingston just made life much easier with their new DataTraveler BlackBox USB flash drives. These simple-looking black flash drives feature the latest FIPS 140-2 Level 2 certified, 256-bit, hardware-based AES encryption. Even better, the complex password protection forces a device lockdown after a preset number of invalid attempts, to prevent determined attackers from accessing your data.

Before joining the team here at NotebookReview.com I used to work for one of the three national credit bureaus in the United States. The credit bureaus are the companies that keep detailed records of your financial history and use complex scoring methods to determine your credit worthiness. When you apply for an auto loan or a home mortgage, the banks go to the credit bureaus to find out if you’re a credit risk. As a result, credit bureaus are always worried about data security.

I was never able to use a USB flash drive during my time at the credit bureau because of the risk that something might happen to unsecured (or incorrectly secured) data on a USB flash drive. That makes perfect sense in a world where identity theft is so common, but that means employees can’t quickly transfer important files from one computer to another and the end result is decreased productivity.


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Kingston’s all new DataTraveler BlackBox is the perfect solution for companies and government agencies that are concerned about data security. Hardware-based encryption and decryption with complex password protection and a device lockdown feature ensures that private data stays private. Even better, the BlackBox is amazingly easy to use and the BlackBox is backed by a five-year warranty and 24/7 tech support.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 3.06" x 0.9" x 0.47" (77.9mm x 22mm x 12.05mm)
  • Capacities: 2GB, 4GB, 8GB
  • Compatibility: designed to USB 2.0 specifications
  • Operating Temperatures: 32° F to 140° F (0° C to 60° C)
  • Storage Temperatures: -4° F to 185° F (-20° C to 85° C)
  • Minimum System Requirements: USB 2.0 or 1.1 port, Two free consecutive drive letters required for use.
    Compatibility table:

    Operating System File Transfer Password Protection/
    Data Encryption
    Windows Vista (32-bit only) Yes Yes
    Windows 2000 (SP3, SP4) and Windows XP (SP1, SP2) Yes Yes


Build and Design

The DataTraveler BlackBox is rugged and waterproof (up to 4 feet), with a titanium-coated, stainless steel casing for added data protection. I accidentally tested the waterproof nature of the BlackBox during the review period when I left the flash drive in my pocket and it went through the wash cycle on laundry day. The drive came through that experience without a scratch and perfectly functional … although I don’t recommend that level of abuse.

The USB port cap features the same great construction as the rest of the BlackBox, but I was a little disappointed that the cap was completely separate from the drive. Sure, you can connect the cap to the back of the BlackBox, but the cap is just too easy to lose … and once you lose the cap the BlackBox isn’t waterproof anymore.


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In Use

The BlackBox has to be one of the easiest to use encrypted drives I’ve ever seen. No admin rights or application installation is required, you just plug the drive in and go. When you insert the BlackBox into a USB port Windows loads two drives: the main storage drive and a "CD Drive" that contains the password authentication application.

The first time the BlackBox is used it will prompt you to provide some identifying information (such as your name and contact info) and then it will ask you to provide a password and a "hint" in case you ever need a reminder.


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The BlackBox enforces complex password protection by requiring passwords with at least three minimum characteristics (upper case, lower case, numbers, and/or special characters) to prevent unauthorized access. The drive locks down and reformats after 10 unsuccessful intrusion attempts … making it impossible to recover the data.

Since the BlackBox uses an encryption co-processor for hardware-based encryption, all encryption and decryption happens transparently. Once you type in the correct password the BlackBox operates exactly like a regular flash drive … but with the added security of 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption working in the background.

Performance

The speed of file transfers is the one area where the BlackBox fails to exceed expectations. Since the built-in encryption co-processor protects 100 percent of stored data while files are being dragged and dropped to and from the drive, the BlackBox isn’t as fast as some of the latest USB drives we’ve seen.

Kingston claims the BlackBox is "fast" with "data transfer rates of up to 24 MB/sec. read and up to 20 MB/sec. write." However, our own tests indicate that the real world performance of the BlackBox doesn’t quite reach these figures.

Below are screenshots from our standard storage drive benchmarks (HDTune and Atto). As you can see in the image below, read speeds rarely exceeded 20MB per second and write speeds almost always stayed below 15MB per second. You start to understand the sacrifice of on-the-fly encryption when you compare these numbers to non-encrypted flash drives that often reach write speeds of more than 20MB/sec and read speeds of more than 30MB/sec.


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Still, the performance of this drive is quite impressive considering the fact that the BlackBox is both encrypting and decrypting data during the transfer process.


Conclusion

The Kingston DataTraveler BlackBox is quite simply the most impressive secure USB flash drive we have seen. Regardless of whether you need to secure your company’s important financial documents or protect your private personal information, the BlackBox provides extreme security and extreme ruggedness in one easy-to-use package.

There are only two minor issues that might make you hesitate purchasing the BlackBox. First, the on-the-fly encryption and decryption makes data transfers a little slower than expected. Second, this drive is significantly more expensive than the average non-secure USB flash drive. Current street prices for the 2GB version of the BlackBox are close to $125, and the 8GB version retails for more than $300.

Of course, the BlackBox is still pretty fast (extremely fast considering the data is being encrypted and decrypted during the drag-and-drop process). And most companies and government agencies considering the purchase of this drive are willing to spend a little more money if it means keeping their data secure. A single data breach can cost a company far more than a couple hundred dollars.

Pros

  • On-the-fly encryption/decryption
  • Excellent password protection
  • Fantastic data lockdown feature
  • Extemely rugged and waterproof

Cons

  • USB cap is easily lost
  • On-the-fly encryption makes this drive slower than most
  • Expensive … but what value do you place on data security?


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