iStorage datAshur PRO Review: The USB Stick for Safety-Conscious Users

From iStorage comes the USB data carrier datAshur PRO, which shines with special security functions. Not only is data stored encrypted by default on it, but to unlock it, a PIN must be entered on the stick. We have examined this unusual USB stick for its functionality and experienced a surprise at the benchmarks.

A USB stick lying around without a master is always an invitation for the curious. Third parties will be happy if they find the password collection, a list of personal PINs or an explicit diary on it. It becomes particularly critical when this USB stick also contains important company data. To prevent such confidential data from falling into the wrong hands, it should be encrypted. For many, however, this is too time-consuming, too complicated or simply too annoying.

Encryption, Made Easy with the datAshur PRO

With the datAshur PRO, iStorage wants to make it as easy as possible for the owner to use and also provide the highest possible security – “military grade” as it is often called. When you plug in the USB stick, you see nothing at all. Because the datAshur PRO is equipped with a number pad. Only after entering the correct PIN does the content become visible on the computer. The controller automatically encrypts data stored on the USB stick using its own hardware module.

If you plug in the USB stick, you have to enter the PIN if you want to access the data again. They can then be accessed normally in the file manager, no software is required for this. This makes the datAshur PRO extremely mobile, it works without additional drivers or external programs and – depending on the file system used – on all common operating systems, be it Windows, Linux or macOS. One green, one red and one blue LED each indicate the different current operating modes of the USB stick.

High Security Level for Confidential Data

A rechargeable battery on the datAshur PRO ensures that the USB stick always allows the PIN to be entered before it is plugged into the PC. But even if the battery is empty, the number pad is ready for use again in a few seconds on the computer and the stick can also be unlocked on the USB port. According to the manufacturer, the PIN is always requested on the stick itself and therefore cannot be read by keyloggers. Even before so-called brute force attacks, in which all number combinations are tried out until the correct one is found, the stick is safe, especially since no access to the stick at all is possible in the locked state.

In addition, the manufacturer assures that the stick is a tamper proof. Disassembling the USB stick irrevocably destroys the stick and the key. The data could then no longer be read by the extracted memory elements. Of course we haven’t tried that. In addition, the stick is waterproof if the aluminium protective cover supplied is properly pushed onto the rubber ring on the stick, which is also made of aluminium. A ring made of braided steel with a screw cap serves as a key ring.

No Data Without Correct PIN

Despite the complex setting options, the keypad is kept quite simple, but requires some memorization if you don’t have the detailed cheat sheet that comes with the package at hand. The LEDs for the status display are helpful. Despite the keypad, the stick is not much bigger than other conventional USB sticks. Above all, it is slim, so it does not interfere with any other plugs in an adjacent port on the computer. The keys can still be pressed individually without any problems, tactile feedback confirms the entry.

The manufacturer has also integrated additional protective measures to ensure security in the event of loss of the USB stick: If the wrong PIN is entered ten times, the stick automatically resets itself and deletes the current key. All data on it is then irrevocably lost. In addition, a timeout can be defined after the stick is automatically locked if it is plugged into a computer. Additional security is provided by the option to activate read-only mode. All this can be done not only by the user himself, but also by an administrator.

Additional Security Thanks to Admin Mode

With a second admin mode with its own key, the datAshur PRO can be secured again, namely before the actual user. The administrator can then define all of the above settings himself. They also apply to the user, for example, read-only mode, if data is only to be transported and not changed. The user cannot change these admin settings himself.

We have also benchmark tested our datAshur PRO with 32 GByte. One of Sandisk’s fastest USB sticks, the Ultra Flair, served as a comparison – admittedly a somewhat unfair comparison. However, both use the USB 3.0 interface. Both were connected to a corresponding slot on the I/O panel of our housing. We used the current version of Crystaldiskmark. Of course, the values measured by us are only comparative values.

Not the Best Benchmark Values, …

We expected the datAshur PRO to be much slower than the Sandisk stick. Especially when reading the differences were more than clear, we could read data from the Sandisk-Stick three times faster than from the datAshur PRO. When writing, the datAshur PRO was also inferior, but far less than when reading. The controller is a Phison PS2313 with a firmware from July 2015.

Then it occurred to us that the encryption also plays a role in the writing speed, which the datAshur PRO also does with its own hardware module. Currently, an AES encryption with 512-bit is normally recommended, but the manufacturer iStorage uses 256-bit encryption on the datAshur PRO, probably also because the data on the stick is additionally secured by the other functions. With 256 bits, the encryption speed is naturally higher than with 512 bits.

… Except for Encryption

We made a final comparison between the Sandisk-Stick and the datAshur PRO by encrypting the Sandisk-Stick with AES-XTS and 256 Bit using the encryption software Veracrypt. Veracrypt also used the hardware module of our fast Ryzen 2700X from AMD. And look at this: The datAshur PRO suddenly beat the Sandisk Flair by lengths while writing. Ultimately, however, the benchmarks are far below the list of priorities for such a USB stick, which excels above all in terms of functionality and security.

In a further test we installed the Linux operating system Tails on the datAshur PRO, which was trimmed for security. We were able to successfully boot from the stick on all three test computers – after entering the PIN, of course. In addition, Tails ran subjectively just as fast as on other comparable data carriers. The low benchmarks didn’t matter here.

Conclusion of the iStorage datAshur PRO Review

If you want to transport confidential data securely, the datAshur PRO is the ideal solution. We particularly liked the fact that the data on the stick can only be accessed by entering the PIN on the stick. This makes brute force attacks on the encrypted data on it impossible. In addition, the stick does not require any additional software and works independently of the operating system. After correct entry of the PIN, the data is immediately visible in the file manager, no matter whether under Windows, Linux or macOS. iStorage would have to work on the reading speed alone.

The datAshur PRO is excellently finished, both the stick itself and the cover, which, if placed correctly, even make the stick waterproof, are made of robust aluminium. The easy-to-reach buttons confirm the entry with tactile feedback and three LEDs provide information on the status of the stick. All in all, the datAshur PRO makes an excellent impression, which absolutely justifies its comparatively high price.

iStorage datAshur PRO

Value for Money

USB flash drive with rich security features

The datAshur PRO from iStorage shines with professional security functions such as an integrated number pad for PIN entry.

Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Bad Segeberg.

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