The Tech Herald

Review: Apricorn’s Aegis Bio 640

by Steve Ragan - Aug 30 2010, 13:00

The Tech Herald's review of the Apricorn Aegis Bio 640. IMG: Apricorn

Since July, we’ve been testing one of the many external storage offerings from Apricorn. The Aegis Bio is an external hard drive, geared towards Netbooks and desktops, which uses the power of touch in its protection offerings. Given that we’ve spent some time with it, read on to gather our thoughts.

[Note: An important disclosure needs to be made. The Aegis Bio was given to us to keep and, as such, anyone reading this should be made aware of the fact. To help maintain a sense of objectivity, we’d like to point you to a second review of the same product by Computerworld's IT Blogwatch author, Richi Jennings.]

The Good:

As mentioned, we got to keep this unit. As this review is being written, it is currently attached to a computer running CentOS, processing Malware samples and malicious code. A drive such as this comes in handy, so it is a decent fit with security operations here at The Tech Herald.

However, while the Biometric protection and the massive storage attributed to the Aegis Bio are excellent perks, there are some limitations and downsides to owning one. As with all external storage offerings, there are some things to bear in mind when using them. Adding secondary protections, such as fingerprints, can layer these considerations.

The Aegis Bio uses Biometric protection (128-bit AES), thanks to a partnership with UPEK. We’ve reviewed UPEK’s offerings in the past, so we knew what we were getting into by using a device protected by its technology.

Once formatted, you get 596GBs of space out of the 640GB drive. Other drives, which range between 250GBs to 500GBs, will also lose some of their storage after formatting. In our day-to-day usage, 596GBs of space is plenty for a mobile analysis kit, which is what we've been using the drive for.

The drive itself is powered via USB, but the Y-Cable packaged with it will allow connected power too, if a single USB connection isn’t enough. Size-wise, the drive chassis is thicker than most cellular phones, and slightly bigger than our BlackBerry 8830, which means it can be kept in a backpack or pocket if needed. The shock mounting that comes embedded with the device adds additional hardware protection.

 

 

Using the included software to register fingerprints is a simple task. It takes about 10-15 minutes, at the most, and then you are prompted with a similar tutorial to the one we’ve seen in earlier UPEK software testing sessions [which you can check out by clicking here].

Once the fingerprints are registered and the drive formatted, it’s ready for use. Aside from the Biometric aspect, the Aegis Bio works as one would expect any external hard drive to.

The device is primarily for storage, but it can be used in conjunction with the UPEK software to store usernames and passwords for any website. The storage, called password bank, means you can access a given website with the Biometric reader, which is handy for things like online banking and email.

The Bad:

We’re happy to have this little device, however some elements stand out as things that could be changed to seriously improve the overall product. Maybe we’re just being picky, but the first thing we took note of was the fingerprint registration itself.

The software that ships with the Aegis Bio is for Windows systems only, which is great for Enterprise customers, and the vast majority of home users. However, what about the shops and consumers that use other platforms, but also need the same protections?

The enrollment software will not work on Mac, but the Aegis Bio itself can be used without software on Mac OS 9.2 or Mac OS X 10.2 or higher. If Linux is used, and the fingerprint feature is required, it will need to be registered on a Windows system first.

The upside to requiring a Windows system is that you only need one, and you really only need it once. After the fingerprints are enrolled, they can be used on any platform that supports USB drives. For example, when attached to our CentOS server, we waited for the light on the drive to turn red, swiped our finger and, once the light turned green, content was accessible.

There is an administrative access feature, where a 'backup password file' is created. This file is unique to the device and stored on the system where the fingerprints are registered. It is paired with a manual password selected during the configuration process to allow access to the Aegis Bio, should fingerprint verification fail or cannot be performed.

The requisite of the two layers of backup access is great. Yet, it is a huge single point of failure if the Windows system where the backup password file has been created was to be lost, and the owner failed to store a copy elsewhere.

This is one of the drawbacks to external Biometric storage and, while the Aegis Bio has a three-year warranty, should the scanner break, that really won’t help a consumer who has misplaced the backup password file.

It would be nice to see some improvement here, perhaps a service that offers offline storage for the file itself, as well as enrollment software for every platform.

Another thing to consider, which isn’t mentioned in the product documents we were sent, is how to use Apricorn’s software for formatting. This is a requirement when setting up the Aegis Bio. Also, if you are a Windows user, remember that the password bank will only work for the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers.

Conclusion:

Overall, Aegis Bio 640 is a handy little drive to have around. We have some minor issues with it, but, for what we need it for, it works just great. Do we recommend it? Well, yes and no. That would depend entirely on what the device is purchased for.

If you are a business person, then having a portable drive with encryption is a surefire way to protect your data. The added Biometrics only improve that protection. Depending on the size of the disk, it is possible to travel with whole projects or client lists. Yet that data should be protected. In this case, yes we would recommend it wholeheartedly. 

However, if you are a casual user, and need nowhere near 640GB of storage, then perhaps using TrueCrypt [information link] and an external 16GB drive would be a better and less costly alternative.

Then again, not everyone needs an encrypted drive. If that is the case, Apricorn offers non-encrypted drives as well. One external drive, without encryption, comes in a 1TB package for $169.00 USD.

No matter what, remember that keeping all your eggs in one basket can be a costly mistake. External storage is great and, on the Aegis Bio, a three-year warranty makes the package even better, but that won’t save your data in the event of a total disaster.

The Aegis Bio comes in various different sizing flavors. 250GBs of storage is the lowest at $119 USD. 320GBs of storage sells for $129 USD, while 500GBs is $149 USD and 640GBs tops out at $159 USD.

More details and information can be found here.

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