Ultra-secure – iStorage diskAshur² USB 3.1 Encrypted Hard Drive Review


The diskAshur² is a portable USB hard drive with a difference: it has both a keypad and military-grade encryption built in that prevent unauthorised access to the data it contains, plus it’s been over-engineered to the Nth degree to ensure it’s physically secure as well.

iStorage has also provided a carry case and coated the drive with soft-touch rubber, which feels luxurious under one’s fingertips.

Pronounced “disk assure”, the drive is the second generation of diskAshur drives that manufacturer iStorage calls “the most secure hard drive ever made”. That’s a lofty claim, but looking closely at the drive, there’s plenty of merit to it.

Military-grade

For starters, it uses full-disk, military-grade 256-bit XTS-AES encryption that’s completely hardware-based, so encrypting and decrypting data doesn’t impact performance at all.

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Furthermore, users are required to use a PIN code that’s between seven and 15 digits long to access the drive’s contents, entered on the epoxy-coated numeric keypad mounted on the drive.

The drive won’t accept PIN numbers with sequential or repeating numbers, either, but there is at least a Shift key on the keypad that lets users add letters to their PIN code as well. That’s quite a steep requirement, but the aim here is security, not convenience, and in that it succeeds.

Don’t forget the PIN

Entering the wrong PIN 15 times in a row will wipe the drive completely, along with all PINs and encryption keys, and after every five attempts the drive must be unplugged and plugged in again. It’s therefore unlikely anyone will “accidentally” erase their data this way. On the flip side, should you forget your PIN code, you’re stuffed – there is literally no way to retrieve it. So keep it safe!

Setting the drive up with your own PIN code is done after you’ve entered the default PIN combination by following the included instructions, printed on high-quality paper. Three LED lights on the drive itself indicate the drive’s status when it’s plugged in: red means locked, green means unlocked, and blue indicates the drive is in admin mode. The process is pretty straightforward, and easy to follow as long as you can read.

The drive can be set to auto-lock at a user-specified interval that’s anything between five and 99 minutes, plus it locks automatically when removed from whatever system it’s attached to. The lock can be manually activated as well by a press of the Lock button on the keypad.

Nth-degree protection

All of this sounds pretty good already, but iStorage has gone even further: it’s incredibly difficult to break into the drive’s rugged water- and dust-resistant IP56-certified case, and its internal components are coated in epoxy to discourage anyone from compromising the hardware. Even if someone somehow manages to do it, the built-in brute-force protection will trigger and the drive will remain inaccessible. For obvious reasons, I didn’t test this.

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So while there’s still a slight chance some determined thief might gain access, the security in place is so comprehensive that thieves will likely move on to lower-hanging fruit when confronted with it. This is thus an excellent place to store your sensitive data.

Bonus

As a bonus, iStorage has included two software products to make owning and operating the diskAshur² a pleasure: Nero Backitup 2017 Essentials, and iStorage DriveSecurity™. Backitup lets you manage backups to the diskAshur² drive, and DriveSecurity™ ensures files stored on the drive are virus-free. Both software packages are yours to keep forevermore as they are licensed to the device.

I had a brief problem installing DriveSecurity, however, as the iStorage-specific installer I was directed to by the included documentation wasn’t valid in my region, so I just downloaded the regular DriveSecurity installer, and the software worked just fine with the supplied serial key.

Performance

Once plugged in and unlocked, the diskAshur² performs just like a regular USB drive; expect 40-odd MBps read/write speeds on older non-USB 3.1 systems, and read/write speeds of anything up to 120MBps on newer systems that support the USB 3.1 standard.

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My two-years-old work laptop, which supports USB 3.1, wrote to the drive from its SSD at between 91MBps and 96MBps during testing, and read from it when copying a big file to the system’s SSD at between 89MBps and 96MBps.

File Systems

Out the box, the drive is formatted with the NTFS file system. That means it’ll work just fine on Windows and Linux PCs, but Mac users who want to write to it will either need to format it to exFAT or install third-party paid software like Paragon NTFS for Mac.

As good as the diskAshur² sounds – and it is – there are two issues that undermine the drive’s attraction a bit: a price much higher than you’ll pay for far higher USB drive capacities (see the Pricing & Availability section below), and an incredibly short USB cable. The pricing is understandable, given the advanced security features on offer, but the cable is just an annoyance.

Cable Conundrum

Since it wraps around the drive itself and is anchored to the body (as opposed to being removeable, probably for security reasons again), it makes logical sense that it would only be 8.9cm long, but from a usability perspective, it’s not ideal.

Pricing & Availability

This is where things get a little tricky. Right now, this drive is only available via resellers, which means there is no retail outlet that stocks it. Yet. I’m told agreements are in the pipeline, but nothing is final yet. This means if you’d like to get one now, you have to go through the company that currently brings them into the country.

That company is ProData, and if you want a diskAshur² drive, you can contact them on 011 561 0900 and ask to speak to someone in sales to get one. They will be able to direct you to a reseller close to you, where you’ll be able to make the purchase.

As for the price itself, brace yourself: this drive carries a recommended retail price of R5469, depending on currency fluctuations. Even if you want to buy one directly on Amazon.com, you’re looking at a base price of $310 (R4100), and that’s before you’ve factored in shipping costs and import duties. Those additional costs are why the drive costs as much as it does.

The thing is, this is a complex drive with incredibly robust security, which doesn’t come cheap to start with. Not only that, but the ultimate price you’ll be asked to pay will also depend on the exchange rate at the time.

Easy recommendation, but…

This drive is impossible not to recommend as the best secure external hard drive to go for if you absolutely, positively, must keep your data out of the wrong hands. The only downsides are how expensive it is, and that crazy-short cable. Get past those, and you have a sure-fire way of keeping critical portable data as safe as it can be kept.

Just don’t forget your PIN.

The diskAshur² is available in red, black, green and blue, and in capacities of 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB. We were sent the 1TB version for review.

Specifications
  • Capacities: 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB
  • Connectivity: USB 3.1
  • Encryption Strength: 256-bit XTS-AES
  • Cable Length: 8.9cm (3.5 inches)
  • Case Coating: Soft-Touch Rubber
  • Extras: Carry case, Nero Backitup, and DriveSecurity
  • Colours: Red, black, green and blue
  • RRP: R5469
The diskAshur² is a portable USB hard drive with a difference: it has both a keypad and military-grade encryption built in that prevent unauthorised access to the data it contains, plus it’s been over-engineered to the Nth degree to ensure it’s physically secure as well. iStorage has also provided a carry case and coated the drive with soft-touch rubber, which feels luxurious under one's fingertips. Pronounced “disk assure”, the drive is the second generation of diskAshur drives that manufacturer iStorage calls “the most secure hard drive ever made”. That’s a lofty claim, but looking closely at the drive, there’s plenty of merit to it. Military-grade For starters, it uses full-disk, military-grade 256-bit XTS-AES encryption that’s completely hardware-based, so encrypting and decrypting data doesn’t impact performance at all. Furthermore, users are required to use a PIN code that’s between seven and 15 digits long to access the drive’s contents, entered on the epoxy-coated numeric keypad mounted on the drive. The drive won’t accept PIN numbers with sequential or repeating numbers, either, but there is at least a Shift key on the keypad that lets users add letters to their PIN code as well. That’s quite a steep requirement, but the aim here is security, not convenience, and in that it succeeds. Don't forget the PIN Entering the wrong PIN 15 times in a row will wipe the drive completely, along with all PINs and encryption keys, and after every five attempts the drive must be unplugged and plugged in again. It’s therefore unlikely anyone will “accidentally” erase their data this way. On the flip side, should you forget your PIN code, you’re stuffed – there is literally no way to retrieve it. So keep it safe! Setting the drive up with your own PIN code is done after you’ve entered the default PIN combination by following the included instructions, printed on high-quality paper. Three LED lights on the drive itself indicate the drive’s status when it’s plugged in: red means locked, green means unlocked, and blue indicates the drive is in admin mode. The process is pretty straightforward, and easy to follow as long as you can read. The drive can be set to auto-lock at a user-specified interval that’s anything between five and 99 minutes, plus it locks automatically when removed from whatever system it’s attached to. The lock can be manually activated as well by a press of the Lock button on the keypad. Nth-degree protection All of this sounds pretty good already, but iStorage has gone even further: it’s incredibly difficult to break into the drive’s rugged water- and dust-resistant IP56-certified case, and its internal components are coated in epoxy to discourage anyone from compromising the hardware. Even if someone somehow manages to do it, the built-in brute-force protection will trigger and the drive will remain inaccessible. For obvious reasons, I didn’t test this. So while there’s still a slight chance some determined thief might gain access, the security in place is so comprehensive that thieves will likely…

Scores

Security - 10
Look and Feel - 10
Convenience - 5
Price - 2
Performance - 9

7.2

Fort Knox

If it's security you want, this drive has it in spades. Convenience, not so much, but true security is never convenient, so that's okay by us. That price, though.

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