The 10 Best Encrypted Drives
This wiki has been updated 28 times since it was first published in September of 2015. You don't have to work for the Feds to want to keep all your sensitive information out of the hands of nefarious individuals. These encrypted drives connect conveniently to your computer via USB ports and are designed to protect any form of data. We have included options that utilize numeric or alphanumeric passcodes, as well as some that allow for biometric unlocking. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 27, 2020:
Encrypting data isn't just for government security officers. These days everyone should be safeguarding their sensitive information using one of these encrypted drives. During this update, we have added some models to the mix that allow for secure biometric login, such as the G-Technology ArmorLock and iStorage datAshur BT. The former also boasts a number of other advanced features, like the ability to track its last known location and to allow access to remote users. The Datalocker DL512V3SSD took the place of the DataLocker FE2000 because we believe most people will prefer an SSD over an HDD due to its better performance in extreme conditions and higher shock resistance. That being said, it has been shown that HDDs do have a longer lifespan, so we left the iStorage DiskAshur Pro2, which uses a traditional mechanical drive, on the list for those who expect to be storing data for more than 10 years.
June 25, 2019:
Workers in many industries are required to maintain strict levels of control over their data. Depending on what kind of data that is, you can possibly get by with a thumb drive like the iStorage DatAshur Pro or Kanguru Defender Elite. They don't cost very much and make it relatively easy to protect sensitive information from prying eyes. No matter your use case, Apricorn is worth a look (and for what it's worth, iStorage produces the thumb drives that Apricorn sells). Their products aren't always the fastest, but they are one of the most well-known names in secure storage. Data Locker, while not extremely popular, offers a handful of models with very powerful features. It hasn't seen a lot of real-world testing, but the FE2000 is one of the most impressive collections of encryption technology we've seen. It checks all the boxes needed for official Level 3 federal approval, and its randomized touchscreen passcode entry system is something that very few other devices have. It's expensive, but if you need security, it's worth the investment.
Possibly the most versatile for the money, however, come from iStorage. Their DiskAshur Pro comes in 2 models using sold-state and traditional magnetic memory. They offer the best price per gigabyte and have the encryption features needed for most government contractor positions. If you're in the healthcare or corporate sectors and need to protect huge collections of records, Buslink makes a number of large-capacity drives that will help you do so safely.
If you're mostly on the hunt for logical protection and don't require the absolute most secure drive, check out StarTech's USB enclosure. You can use any 7- or 9.5-millimeter drive with it, including a modern SSD, which will make it faster than many of the others. But because it's not tamper-resistant like the others, it's not advised (and likely not legal) for government jobs.
More Than Just A Substitute
Even that concept is relatively basic when you get into the nitty-gritty of encryption mathematics.
Imagine, for a moment, that you'd written the next great American novel. Its pages contain the very essence of contemporary humanity, spelled out with such acuteness and alacrity that to call it a guaranteed success would be to miss the point. This book has the potential to change the way we see our world, to make monsters out of angels and sheep out of devils.
You have one editor that you trust at one publishing house across the pond in England. At some point, you need to get him a copy of the book, and he needs to take it to his printers. Somewhere along those lines, though, it could be compromised.
To guard against this, you keep the typewritten pages locked in a safe in your home, but the digital copy needs a shell of security at least this strong. That's where an encrypted drive will keep your materials exclusively in the hands of those whom you trust.
Modern encryption is non-linear. Linear encryption systems worked in their most rudimentary form as systems of substitution: a=b, b=c, c=d, etc. In that particular system, wherein each letter encodes as the next letter in the alphabet, a word like 'cat' becomes encrypted as 'dbu.' Such systems are much easier to hack with today's digital technology.
While that technology has opened up simpler systems to attack, it's also provided us with a means for the incredibly advanced, non-linear encryption that the devices on our list use. It starts with the fact that, in binary code, the letter A is not simply the letter A, but a binary representation of A which reads as 01000001. Even with a linear substitution system, the available combinations of zeroes and ones for the alphabet alone would make cracking a binary-based code significantly more difficult.
Of course, any modern encryption device takes these binary codes and sends them through a significant number of non-linear systems that take additional variables into account, like letter and word position. Even that concept is relatively basic when you get into the nitty-gritty of encryption mathematics.
It Helps To Have A Key
Taking a close look at the encrypted drives on our list, you'll see that a handful of them use a physical interface on the hard disk itself to lock and unlock your drive. That might leave you to wonder how the other disks know who's using them, and the answer to that question ought to help you decide which disk you want to take home.
You ought to have a good idea bout how much data you plan to encrypt in storage.
All of the disks on this list encrypt as you write to them. The process seems invisible, and so it's often referred to as transparent encryption. They write the data onto the disk already encrypted, without a single bite of data stored in its original form. In the reverse order, transparent encryption devices decrypt data as you read from them, provided you have the proper key.
If you feel a greater sense of comfort with a physical unlocking mechanism, rather like the lock on a good home safe, you'll probably want a drive that comes with its own little keypad. Some manufacturers have incorporated such physical mechanisms on their thumb drives, so your options aren't limited to the big boys just because you like punching numbers.
The other drives on this list operate with a simple shadow disk at the front of their operating order. When you plug one of these in, an extraordinarily simple operating system pops up, asking you for the key phrase to unlock the rest of the disk. Be careful with these, however, as some will format the disk after enough failed attempts to log into it.
The only other variable that will guide you toward your decision is size. You ought to have a good idea bout how much data you plan to encrypt in storage. Most of these drives come in a variety of sizes, and our ranking system takes specific sizes into account when evaluating overall value, so after you click on a given link, check out your size options, and choose accordingly.
Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe
Secrets are among the few things that make us uniquely human. Conspiracy and concealment dot the history of human interaction like celestial bodies on a crystal clear desert night. More often than not, the secrets we keep have some merit at their cores.
It was Alan Turing, however, who advanced the art of cryptography into the computer age.
Sometimes we hide information from those we love for their protection or their emotional comfort. Sometimes we hide truths about ourselves for our own safety in a hostile environment. Whatever our need for personal or professional secrecy, we've long applied our tools and intellect to the obfuscation of sensitive information.
Upon close examination, language itself is a form of cryptography, turning one understanding of our sensory experience (the non-linguistic one) into a specifically coded language. Of course, the purpose of this encryption is to increase understanding and communication, not to decrease it.
Encryption requires a written source text to become something more than a substitute language. It makes sense then that the first encryption we find in history lived in the Old Kingdom of Egypt nearly 4,000 years ago. Ciphers gained complexity as language evolved, and exploded in complexity under the Greek and Arabic mathematicians.
It was Alan Turing, however, who advanced the art of cryptography into the computer age. That revolution continues on today, as governments and standards organizations scramble to gain security in a landscape of brilliant young hackers and a rapidly approaching singularity.