GeekDad Review: iStorage DiskAshur 2 Encrypted Portable SSD

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Do you have data that really should be kept secure but isn’t? Work-related or personal information is tough to keep safe once it goes digital. I always start by storing it locally instead of in the cloud. However, just because the data is on a hard drive or thumb drive, that doesn’t guarantee it won’t end up in the wrong hands should that drive be misplaced or stolen. The DiskAshur 2 Encrypted Portable SSD from iStorage is designed to be that missing link—high capacity, high speed, hardware encrypted storage in a rugged and tamper-resistant case.

GeekDad’s Jenny Bristol reviewed the datAshur Pro USB stick from iStorage last fall. The UK-based company sent me one of its DiskAshur 2 Encrypted Portable SSDs and I finally had time to test it out over the holidays, acting as the external host for our Photos library. Here’s what to expect from this secure and rather unusual looking portable drive.

DiskAshur 2 review
iStorage DiskAshur 2 Encrypted Portable SSD in Fiery Red (Photo by Brad Moon)

Hardware Level Encryption + Physical Protection

The DiskAshur 2 Encrypted Portable SSD is designed to be virtually impossible to break into. You need to enter a PIN (minimum of seven digits) using the integrated keypad in order to access its contents. Data is protected by real-time AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption. Both the data and the encryption key are encrypted. If the wrong PIN is entered five times, the drive automatically freezes. It needs to be disconnected then re-connected to the USB port to get another five tries. After 15 straight failed PIN entries, the drive deletes the encryption key rendering the data stored useless.

So you don’t want to forget that PIN…

You can also go all espionage-y and create a unique “self destruct” PIN that when entered, will also delete the encryption key, rendering the data useless.

In addition, iStorage says the keys themselves are coated with a wear resistant epoxy so repeated PIN entry doesn’t leave telltale wear on the keys. The case is rugged (IP 56 water and sun resistant) and tamper-resistant. The components are coated with a tough epoxy layer that iStorage claims is virtually impossible to remove without causing permanent physical damage. Protection is also provided against external tampering, firmware modification, and USB attacks.

You can read all the full security measures here.

This is amateur hour—I don’t pretend to know much about hardware hacking—but reformatting the drive (which I had to do anyway for Mac support) does not affect any of the security measures. You’ll still need the code to access the drive…

DiskAshur 2 review
You’re not going to see that green “unlocked” icon without the correct PIN. (Photo by Brad Moon)

SSD Speed and USB-A vs. USB-C

With prices of solid-state storage dropping, external SSDs are becoming more popular. The DiskAshur 2 has claimed sustained read/write speeds of up to 294 MBps and 319 MBps respectively. That’s significantly faster than most external USB hard disk drives, which tend to hit around 100 MBps over a USB 3.0 port. However, it’s not the kind of speeds you’ll see with SSDs connecting over a USB-C port. I’ve seen external SSDs claiming read-write speeds in excess of 2000 MBps over a USB-C Thunderbolt port…

In my case, connected to a MacBook Air with a USB 3.0 port and replacing an external 5400 rpm hard drive, the performance upgrade was significant. The DiskAshur 2 felt blazing fast in comparison when uploading new photos and exploring the existing library.

If you have a laptop with USB-C, you’re going to have to fall back on a dongle to connect this drive. The design includes an integrated USB-A cable, which doubles for both data transfer and power. It’s convenient (assuming you’re in the majority and have an old school USB-A port on your computer), but that does mean you can’t swap it out for a different cable.

Extras

iStorage throws in a number of free extras with the DiskAshur 2. There’s a handy, zippered carrying case for transporting the drive. The company also includes a free download of Nero BackItUp software and a free download of its own DriveSecurity antivirus software.

DiskAshur 2 review
iStorage throws in a handy carrying case and some free software. (Photo by Brad Moon)

Should You Buy It?

If you need to store a large volume of critical or sensitive files securely, the DiskAshur 2 Encrypted Portable SSD is about as secure as it gets, short of locking your data in a bank vault. This is James Bond level protection and with pretty zippy speed. I suspect it’s overkill for most people, but if you’re willing to pay a premium (at approximately $475 U.S. dollars at time of writing, it was going for anywhere from two to four times the price of regular 512GB external SSDs), the iStorage DiskAshur 2 will definitely keep your data safe.

If you have massive amounts of sensitive data, the DiskAshur 2 is available in capacities of up to 4TB. Just because it’s functional doesn’t mean it can’t also be aesthetically pleasing—the drive is offered in a range of colors, although I have to say I’m pretty partial to the review unit’s Fiery Red paint job.

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