A USB key, also known as a thumb drive or USB drive, is a kind of digital briefcase—a place to store files while you move them from one computer to another. If you’re carrying around confidential business or personal information and want to keep it safe, look for a USB key that features encryption, or scrambling, of your data and requires your PIN or password to access it.
Government or business users who want to make sure an encrypted USB key is secure, however, must look carefully at how these security features work. To achieve the highest level of security, a USB key must include a dedicated security computer chip, for example a smart card chip. This tamperproof container securely stores the data encryption key and verifies your PIN/password to access the data, so it is not vulnerable to attacks on the USB key software. In addition, the key should comply with strong, military-grade encryption standards, such as the U.S. government’s Advanced Encryption Standard 256 (AES-256).
For example, researchers recently hacked into popular USB keys claiming to be secure. Using a flaw in the USB key software that checks your password, the researchers were able to read the data on these “secure” devices without knowing the password. More information about high security USB keys is available online.