Last March, in my blog post [RSA Breach, World Backup Day and the use of Encryption], I mentioned the use of [EncryptStick], a product by ENC Security Systems. Since then, I have thought of some ways that could make it even better.
(FTC Disclosure: I do not work or have any financial investments in ENC Security Systems. ENC Security Systems did not paid me to mention them on this blog. Their mention in this blog is not an endorsement of either their company or any of their products. Information about EncryptStick was based solely on publicly available information and my own personal experiences. My friends at ENC Security Systems provided me a full-version pre-loaded stick for this review.)
The EncryptStick software comes in two flavors, a free/trial version, and the full/paid version. The free trial version has [limits on capacity and time] but provides enough glimpse of the product to decide before you buy the full version. You can download the software yourself and put in on your own USB device, or purchase the pre-loaded stick that comes with the full-version license.
Whichever you choose, the EncryptStick offers three nice protection features:
- Encryption for data organized in "storage vaults", which can be either on the stick itself, or on any other machine the stick is connected to. That is a nice feature, because you are not limited to the capacity of the USB stick.
- Encrypted password list for all your websites and programs.
- A secure browser, that prevents any key-logging or malware that might be on the host Windows machine.
I have tried out all three functions and everything works as advertised. However, there is always room for improvement, so here are my suggestions.
- Plausible Deniability
The first problem is that the pre-loaded stick looks like it is worth a million dollars. It is in a shiny bronze color with "EncryptStick" emblazoned on it. This is NOT subtle advertising! This 8GB capacity stick looks like it would be worth stealing solely on being a nice piece of jewelry, and then the added bonus that there might be "valuable secrets" just makes that possibility even more likely.
If you want to keep your information secure, it would help to have "plausible deniability" that there is nothing of value on a stick. Either have some corporate logo on it, of have the stick look like a cute animal, like these pig or chicken USB sticks.
It reminds me how the first Apple iPod's were in bright [Mug-me White]. I use black headphones with my black iPod to avoid this problem.
Of course, you can always install the downloadable version of EncryptStick software onto a less conspicuous stick if you are concerned about theft. The full/paid version of EncryptStick offers an option for "lost key recovery" which would allow you to backup the contents of the stick and be able to retrieve them on a newly purchased stick in the event your first one is lost or stolen.
- The Cap
Imagine how "unlucky" I felt when I notice that I had lost my "rabbits feet" on this cute animal-themed USB stick.
I sense trouble for losing the cap on my EncryptStick as well. This might seem trivial, but is a pet-peeve of mine that USB sticks should plan for this. Not only is there nothing to keep the cap on (it slides on and off quite smoothly), but there is no loop to attach the cap to anything if you wanted to.
Since then, I got smart and try to look for ways to keep the cap connected. Some designs, like this IBM-logoed stick shown above, just rotate around an axle, giving you access when you need it, and protection when it is folded closed.
Alternatively, get a little chain that allows you to attach the cap to the main stick. In the case of the pig and chicken, the memory section had a hole pre-drilled and a chain to put through it. I drilled an extra hole in the cap section of each USB stick, and connected the chain through both pieces.
(Warning: Kids, be sure to ask for assistance from your parents before using any power tools on small plastic objects.)
- Multi-OS Support
The EncryptStick can run on either Microsoft Windows or Mac OS. The instructions indicate that you can install both versions of download software onto a single stick, so why not do that for the pre-loaded full version? The stick I have had only the Windows version pre-loaded. I don't know if the Windows and Mac OS versions can unlock the same "storage vaults" on the stick.
Certainly, I have been to many companies where either everyone runs Windows or everyone runs Mac OS. If the primary target audience is to use this stick at work in one of those places, then no changes are required. However, at IBM, we have employees using Windows, Mac OS and Linux. In my case, I have all three! Ideally, I would like a version of EncryptStick that I could take on trips with me that would allow me to use it regardless of the Operating System I encountered.
Since there isn't a Linux-version of EncryptStick software, I decided to modify my stick to support booting Linux. I am finding more and more Linux kiosks when I travel, especially at airports and high-traffic locations, so having a stick that works both in Windows or Linux would be useful. Here are some suggestions if you want to try this at home:
- Use fdisk to change the FAT32 partition type from "b" to "c". Apparently, Grub2 requires type "c", but the pre-loaded EncryptStick was set to "b". The Windows version of EncryptStick> seems to work fine in either mode, so this is a harmless change.
- Install Grub2 with "grub-install" from a working Linux system.
- Once Grub2 is installed, you can boot ISO images of various Linux Rescue CDs, like [PartedMagic] which includes the open-source [TrueCrypt] encryption software that you could use for Linux purposes.
- This USB stick could also be used to help repair a damaged or compromised Windows system. Consider installing [Ophcrack] or [Avira].
- Certainly, 8GB is big enough to run a full Linux distribution. The latest 32-bit version of [Ubuntu] could run on any 32-bit or 64-bit Intel or AMD x86 machine, and have enough room to store an [encrypted home directory].
- If you plan to use Firefox's [Private Browsing Mode], I highly recommend using the [NoScript] Firefox plug-in.
Since the stick is formatted FAT32, you should be able to run your original Windows or Mac OS version of EncryptStick with these changes.
Depending on where you are, you may not have the luxury to reboot a system from the USB memory stick. Certainly, this may require changes to the boot sequence in the BIOS and/or hitting the right keys at the right time during the boot sequence. I have been to some "Internet Cafes" that frown on this, or have blocked this altogether, forcing you to boot only from the hard drive.
Well, those are my suggestions. Whether you go on a trip with or without your laptop, it can't hurt to take this EncryptStick along. If you get a virus on your laptop, or have your laptop stolen, then it could be handy to have around. If you don't bring your laptop, you can use this at Internet cafes, hotel business centers, libraries, or other places where public computers are available.