Review: Kingston IronKey Vault Privacy 80 – Seriously Secure SSD

highly-encrypted USB drive that offers top-of-the-line security for your sensitive information

I’m old enough to remember when hard drive sizes were measured in megabytes as opposed to gigabytes. I’ve also been carrying around some form of Kingston portable drive for decades now. From portable hard drives to usb sticks, I always had one jammed in my pocket or down the side of a laptop bag. But for those of us who carried our livelihoods with us, there was a constant fear of losing our data. The thought of misplacing it, or even worse, having someone else stumble upon it and sift through our personal and professional info was enough to send a shiver down the spine.

Before you roll your eyes and dismiss all this as nonsense, remember, you don’t need to be Ethan Hunt or James Bond to worry about this problem. Between GDPR and data theft, unsecured data is a big no-no for companies and individuals. I’ve lost count of the number of reports of lost hard drives or usb sticks being left somewhere only to have “found” customer data or health data broadcast all over the internet. Kingston decided to do something about it with the IronKey Vault range.

The lovely folks at Kingston sent me the IronKey Vault Privacy 80, an external portable SSD that requires secure authentication in order to have access to the data on the drive. Lets (securely) see what it can do…

Open The Vault

Open the box and you’ll find a neat blue and black carrying case that fits the drive snuggled in with 2 cables; USB-C to USB-C and USB-C to USB A. So, older devices can play nicely with the IronKey Vault 80 ES too. Whip the drive itself out of the packaging and you’ll find a cool, retro, ipod nano style, metallic blue, lightweight ( 262 grams ) unit with a bright, colour, touch screen on the front face and a USB-C socket on the top edge.

It comes in 3 sizes: 480GB, 960GB,  or 1920GB, which should be enough for files that need to be transported. And in case you really want to channel ‘Q’ from the James Bond movies, it uses a Common Criteria EAL5+  certified secure microprocessor and is encrypted with FIPS 197  Certified XTS AES 256 bit encryption, which I’ve never seen before on a portable drive.

The IronKey Vault 80ES is platform agnostic, so it happily works on Windows, Linux, macOS and Chrome OS ( tested on Mac & PC ). You just pick the cable that fits your computer and plug it in. As long as your USB slot is powered, it just switches on and you can go through the first set-up process.

A blue LED on the front tells you it’s active and the device goes through a brief self-test and a precision test to calibrate the touch screen . It isn’t a capacitative screen so you can use a finger, a stylus or the back end of a pen if you like. Next, you’ll have to set up a secure admin password to manage the device via the touchscreen, which has to be over 6 characters; numbers, or letters, or a combination of both, up to a maximum of 60.

You Can’t Brute Force This

Talking of passwords, you can set the number of password attempts you are willing to allow before you are locked out. You can also set it to wipe the drive if the password attempts exceed the set limit. It comes pre-set at 15 attempts but you can allow up to 30 tries, or will you make the user sweat with only one chance before the data is gone forever! In a novel twist to the usual password UI, the IronKey Vault comes pre-set to scramble the touch keys on the screen every time you have to log in. Meaning no one can keep a track of your finger prints or if they’re looking over your shoulder, it should be next to impossible to guess the code by figuring out where you’re pressing, as it’s a different position every time.

Once you’ve logged in you’ll see a screen asking you either connect normally or in read only mode. Why do you need a read only mode I hear you ask? If you plug this drive into a dubious computer, it won’t be able to write anything to the drive, protecting you from viruses, trojans or worms. If you pick “connect” normally though, the IronKey Vault will behave like any other drive and you can drag and drop files to and from the device to your hearts content, safe in the knowledge that your data/crypto is being 256 bit encrypted on the fly.

If you need to move away from the device but want to leave it connected to the PC or Mac, just eject the drive as normal and hit the “Lock and Disconnect” button. The drive will immediately lock and un-mount itself, securely thwarting any data thief and requiring you to log back in to re-connect and re-activate it.

Super Users

Under the admin account all the settings on the device can be customised from length of password to time to auto-lock the device to securely wipe the data. But you may not want those settings available to everyone. The IronKey Vault allows you to set up multiple user accounts with their own passwords which don’t have access to all the fine grain settings, making it perfect for deploying to multiple employees while still maintaining security. Just in case you were wondering, if a user forgets their password (which happens), the admin password can be used to reset the users access and access the stored data.

Why You Need It

At first glance, the IronKey Vault 80ES may not be for everyone, but its potential applications are plenty:

  • If you’re entrusted with managing sensitive information like user-data, health records, or financial data, then device security is essential.
  • If you’re in the habit of plugging drives into other people’s computers, you need a drive in read-only mode to minimise security risks.
  • And if you, or if you have employees who frequently move files around, you should be making sure it’s done on a secure device.

Also, don’t forget that if you’re an employee expected to carry sensitive information, it’s crucial to have a secured device to protect both yourself and the company.

From my perspective, having a secure place to back up all of the personal, health or financial information for you and your family probably wouldn’t be the craziest idea you’ve ever had. Not to mention all that crypto you’ve squirreled away (To the moon, kids!).

The IronKey Vault 80ES, is safe, solid and secure! Be sure to check out the range of Iron Key SSD drives on Kingston’s Site HERE

And they are available from Amazon here

About Author
Born into a family of restauranteurs, Ricardo Pirroni didn't want to join the family business. His talents extended beyond the kitchen and he has spent the last 20 years honing his skills in various creative pursuits. From making things from scratch, 3d sculpting, drawing, designing graphics, art directing to brainstorming concepts. His work is not only functional, but also thought-provoking and entertaining. In addition to being a recognised authority on cake, his diverse range of talents and love of all things tech, makes him a versatile writer, capable of crafting stories that are both engaging and visually compelling.