Freecom puts swipe-card security on hard drive

RFID technology adds extra layer of security to storage devices

Storage vendor Freecom has come up with a new external USB hard drive that can only be accessed using an RFID (radio frequency identification) swipe card.

Desktop and portable drives have been secured using passwords, PINs, using fingerprints and, of course, using built-in transparent encryption, but Freecom's 3.5 inch Hard Drive Secure is probably the first mass-market drive to use a swipe card token.

Accessing or unlocking the drive involves moving the card near the reader inside the drive, which avoids the need to remember a decryption passphrase. Re-locking the drive is achieved by passing the same card against the drive for a second time.

The data on the drive itself is not encrypted, but the RFID token locks the drive, making it inaccessible and invisible to the OS. The 128-bit AES encryption is used to protect the code that is transferred to 'open' the drive.

The design doesn't necessarily offer any more underlying security than simply using 128-bit AES encryption with a standard password, but it might offer some companies the convenience of accessing the drive using a token because this could be shared among a small group of users without the need to manage passwords or profiles. This is a desktop drive, remember, and is not designed carried from place to place. The RFID is really a way of securing a drive that sits beside PCs or Macs.

A few questions were unanswered at the time of going to press, such as whether timeouts re-lock the drive if not accessed for a set period, what happens if both of the swipe cards are lost - most likely the drive will have to be reformatted.

It is likely that the actual unlock encryption passphrase itself can't be extracted by hacking open the drive and hooking up to a storage chip, as might theoretically be the case when dealing with some conventional crypto hard drives. This will be stored on the RFID itself.

"You hear about it almost every day - somebody somewhere loses their hard drive and all kinds of confidential information ends up out in the open for anyone to see," said Freecom's co-founder and marketing exec, Axel Lucassen. "The keycard system on the Hard Drive Secure keeps your data completely safe and gives you instant access to your files whenever you need to use them."

Capacities start at 500GB and go up to 2TB, with prices ranging from 119 euros to 289 euros for the largest capacity unit. UK and US pricing is not yet available.

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John E. Dunn

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