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Group test: top 7 encrypted hard drives

How to securely transport your data

Laptops get lost and PCs get hacked, so it's important not to store anything sensitive on them. PC Advisor assess a range of encrypted drives to find the safest place to store your data.

Secure hard drives: data access

Bear in mind that not all encrypted hard drives offer their custodial functions outside the Windows environment. Most will work as standard backup drives for Mac and Linux machines, but the encryption is generally written only for Windows. If you intend to use one or more non-Windows operating systems (OSes), consider the Amacom and Lenovo models, as each has a physical keypad.

As with all encrypted drives, the data on the platters (or, in the case of flash drives, on the memory chip) is unreadable to anyone who lacks the password or the physical key.

Even if someone tries removing the platters from the housing and scanning them with forensic data-recovery tools, the recorded bits will appear to be random, meaningless data, unlockable only with the right key.

Most encrypted drives use one of several standard, well-known algorithms. The most common is Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which is favoured by the US government and the military. FIPS 140 is a very general US government encryption standard that ensures that products follow certain security protocols. Level 1, the lowest of four, simply means 'no glaring errors or omissions were present'.

Anything that uses 128- or 256bit AES is compliant with FIPS 140-2 Level 1. Less common are drives that use the older Digital Encryption Standard (DES), or its cousin, Triple-DES - both are significantly weaker algorithms, although they're effective protection against casual snoopers.

We evaluated a selection of models, including hard drives and flash drives. While the whisper-quiet Seagate Maxtor BlackArmor was our Best Buy, our overall impression of all the drives was positive. They were uniformly easy to install and fast at performing backups, which meant we wouldn't hesitate to use them for a more secure backup routine.

Regardless of which model you choose, if you inadvertently leave the drive behind on the train, you can be confident that whoever finds it won't be able to retrieve your secrets. That's assuming you haven't attached the password to the drive with a Post-It Note, or left the decryption key plugged into the back. These devices eliminate many security worries, but can't prevent careless behaviour.

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  1. How to securely transport your data
  2. Secure hard drives: data access
  3. Secure hard drive reviews

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