The pre-release MiniStation DataVault seemed so light, so airy, so harmless, as Jay Pechek passed it to me in the Market Bar in San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
“The Defense Department actually classified this as munitions because of the level of encryption,” he explained. Unlike many devices, where you can bypass a Windows password by accessing it through DOS, there is no backdoor on this drive. Either you know the password, or all but the first 150 MB of the drive is invisible to you. (So make sure enter that password into your password-storing program, because you will be in big trouble if you lose it.) When you copy data onto the drive, it gets encrypted on the fly.
Mind you, it was somewhat less than intuitively obvious how one went about changing the password. It turns out that if you click the “options” button, you’re prompted for the old password and then a new one, and can provide yourself a hint. But once you’ve logged in with the initial (woefully obvious) password, you can only get to the login screen by disconnecting and reconnecting the drive. Other attempts to get at the password program result in the following error message:
(Um, yes. Buffalo is a Japanese company. And yes, they’re the ones who had the WIDnows error message in the DriveStation Duo user interface. And yes, I’m an incurable pedant. Plus, of course, it just enhances my credibility immensely that I’m willing to point out mistakes made by people who bribe me. Right?)
The point of the encryption is not really military, despite the export restrictions. It probably wouldn’t take a whole lot of interrogation to make most of us reveal our passwords. What the super-security of the DataVault protects against is loss and theft. The thing about portable hard drives is that people carry them around. That means an increased likelihood of leaving them someplace. And if the drive you forget on the subway has confidential corporate information on it—or worse yet, confidential customer information—you’re probably out of a job, and your ex-employer’s PR staff is going to have a lot more to worry about than bloggers picking on their grammar and spelling.
So now that I have a new, stronger password on the drive, I can travel with it and use it to back up things like Quicken data and Outlook and client projects, and not worry that someone could pocket the drive and get me in trouble. (They’d have an easier time breaking into my laptop, but a much harder time fitting this 17-inch monster inconspicuously into a pocket.)
Another thing that makes the DataVault a good drive to travel with is its shockproof design. Rather than make the drive paper-thin, Buffalo put shock absorbers and plenty of air space around the drive. (I imagine that helps with cooling, too, though the drive does get warm to the touch.) It’s still less than an inch thick and seems fairly dainty to me, but can reportedly survive a fall of 50 inches. One presumes that’s while it’s not spinning; it seems unlikely anyone would be attaching it with a 50-inch USB cable in any case.
I have not tested this claim myself. Perhaps I should, for the sake of thoroughness, but I’m hesitant to mistreat equipment—or damage the wood floor, for that matter.
The DataVault mounts like a U3 stick: Windows interprets it as two separate drives, one of them a “CD drive.” I hadn’t thought about that when choosing a name for the drive, but it worked out anyway. Since the “CD” partition calls itself “Utility,” designating that as drive “U” and the data partition “V” was a fairly obvious move. I already have a “D” drive and an “M” drive, so it’s “V” for “vault” and into the Who’s Who in Classical Mythology for some inspiration on naming.
I ended up calling the drive Vesta, for the Roman goddess of the hearth. The Vestal Virgins not only had a small, charming temple in the middle of Rome, but they guarded wills and other important documents. Plus there are all those literary associations between virginity and unbreached walls.
As far as utilities go, I had expected something more like U3 or Ceedo, but this particular DataVault drive, at least, came with the SecureDisk Tool, TurboUSB for maximizing connection speed, a couple of PDF manuals and an Adobe Reader installation package, and Memeo AutoBackup.
Of course, the DataVault is designed to be plug-and-play with both Windows machines and Macs, and U3 only works on Windows. This could have something to do with the fairly primitive 1990s-style menu of options.
Since I had already installed Memeo along with the LinkStation Mini last week (and more on that in another post), I just created a new backup job. This time I decided to check out the “smart picks” backup option, which finds and backs up files by type. Even though I checked all the obvious types of files on my C drive, the total only came to about 6 GB, and Memeo found and copied them in sprightly fashion. (Maybe that TurboUSB stuff really works.)
I’d say that there’s a good likelihood I’ll bring Vesta with me on my next trip, instead of either of my other two portable drives. (Hmm. Maybe I should call that FreeAgent Go drive “Freya.” Somehow it escaped getting a proper name.) For one thing, Vesta only needs one USB port, and the others need one each for power and data transfer.
That’s all the time I have for playing with toys this morning, but I’ll be reporting back in with more details about Memeo and the LinkStation Mini.