Review: Corsair 2GB Flash Padlock USB Stick
Editor’s Note: In a later review of Lexar’s JumpDrive Lightning USB stick, I updated my USB stick recommendation in favor of that product. I also ran into some issues with the Corsair Flash Padlock that caused me to rethink it entirely. From a pure hardware-security standpoint, I now recommend the IronKey Secure Flash Drive.
I’ve been searching for a USB stick with large storage that I can use as my everyday portable storage. I require this device to have security protection. USB sticks are too easy to lose, and I might have sensitive personal or corporate data on it from time to time. I don’t want to worry about prying eyes should the darn thing fall out of my pocket.
For the past few years I’ve been using a highly portable 5GB Seagate USB 2.0 Pocket Hard Drive, which contains a 1-inch mini-drive.
It works with Macs and PCs, but unfortunately the built-in security is software-based, and it requires Windows to run. While almost every USB storage device works on the Mac, most of them are using Windows-based software — not hardware — to encrypt or lock up your data.
So when a press release arrived from Corsair about a self-locking USB stick with a built-in numeric keypad called Flash Padlock, I had to check it out.
The Flash Padlock currently comes in 1GB and 2GB sizes at the list price of $29.99 and $39.99, respectively. I’d love to get one that was at least 4GB and preferably 8GB. I sometimes move large sets of software or images around. The business of software reviews is data-intensive. But 2GB handles most of my needs.
Flash Padlock contains a small, user-replaceable lithium battery that allows the five-button numeric keypad to work even when the USB stick is unconnected to your computer. In fact, you set your combination, change it, lock the device, and unlock it — all while the stick is removed from your computer. This makes total sense; doing anything else would endanger your USB port and also be awkward. The black case offers five number buttons and a Key button (think of it as Enter). There are also two LEDs that light up the Locked and Unlocked icons. The Flash Padlock is about 33% thicker than the average USB stick. The added heft accommodates the battery and keypad, and is well worth the advantage the hardware security brings.
The user interface for the Flash Padlock is very well thought out. Once you set your up to 10-digit combination, the device locks automatically 15 seconds after it is removed from your computer. If you try to reinsert it five minutes later, you’ll see the red Locked icon display. To unlock it, you remove the device from your computer, press the Key button, enter the combination, re-press the Key button, and the green Unlocked icon will flash. Then you can insert it into your computer. If you don’t insert it within 15 seconds, it will lock again. So long as the device remains in your computer, it will remain unlocked.
The specs for the Flash Padlock include a 30MB/sec. read speed, 7.8MB/sec. write speed, USB 2.0 and 1.1 support, and support for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. The Flash Padlock’s read speed is about as good as it gets, but the write speed is only average. If write performance is your goal, check out the Lexar JumpDrive Lightning as a starting point. It offers sustained write speeds up to 21MB/sec. For my purposes, a faster write speed would be a nice-to-have, not a have-to-have. Plus, in real-world tests, the Flash Padlock’s write speed bested that of my Seagate 5GB Pocket Drive. Still, I look forward to the day when flash storage makers realize that buyers of premium USB sticks want the whole enchilada, not just speed OR security OR readouts OR durability.
The downsides to the Flash Padlock are few. The stick is a little thicker than the average USB stick, as mentioned. The rest of the dimensions are typical of enterprise-oriented USB sticks. I don’t consider the extra size to be a serious drawback, although the device lacks curbside appeal as a result. The stick comes with a removable cap that is sure to be lost sooner or later. The biggest shortcoming is that Corsair isn’t offering a larger-capacity version of the Flash Padlock.
I asked Corsair via email whether it planned to offer a larger-capacity version of the Flash Padlock. Corsair vice president of marketing, Jack H. Peterson, responded through the company’s PR agency by writing:
“Possibly. The issue is that if the user loses [his or her] PIN, the drive becomes ‘useless’ and might as well be thrown away. Like the locks from your school days, if you forgot the combo, you just threw it away but then again, such a lock was not that expensive. We are assessing the mindset of a user throwing away a $60+ item.”
I think I can speak for a large portion of Corsair’s prospective customers when I say: We don’t care give us more GBs now! In my very first test of Flash Padlock, I got the error message telling me there wasn’t enough storage space to accommodate the files I wanted to transfer to the lockable USB stick. Besides, Corsair has a solid way to protect you from forgetting your Flash Padlock password. The company website provides a page where you can register your PIN and retrieve it later if you forget it:
It’s also possible to disable the password protection. In fact, the device is shipped with the locking feature disabled; you enable it by setting your password. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a USB securing device that has a back door. I like that I can lock myself out if I’m dumb enough to forget my password. The Web-based storage of my password means that even if I forget the password when I travel with the Flash Padlock, I can still retrieve my password — without keeping the password written down on paper.
The Flash Padlock’s hardware-based security is a definite advantage over the software security offered by most other USB flash drive makers. No secure USB stick is truly secure, but I’d place my money on the hardware-based security over software solutions. Plus, this method also enables support for Linux and the Mac. The locking mechanism is also very well thought out and easy to use. My retail-packaged evaluation unit came with two sets of directions, and the Corsair website offers online tech support (although the brand new Flash Padlock wasn’t yet listed among the products at press time). Corsair offers a three-year warranty.
Bottom line? I’m hanging up the Seagate Pocket Drive and making the Corsair Flash Padlock my daily-driver portable storage device. Kudos to Corsair for thinking outside the box to take USB security in a new direction. I may just have to get two of these until Corsair comes out with a 4GB version of the Flash Padlock.