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Corsair's Flash Padlock 2 USB thumb drive

Here, the safe comes in the padlock

Ah, USB thumb drives. In the not-so-distant past, these were prized possessions. Their ability to store tens—nay, hundreds—of megabytes on a few flash chips strapped to a USB connector drew oohs and aahs, and some of us pondered whether, once prices came down, these devices could one day come to replace the mighty floppy disk.

Today, USB thumb drives are all but exciting. Odds are you've bought several, scrounged a few more, and left all but a couple sitting quietly in a forgotten drawer, waiting for their siblings to go missing.

Once in a while, though, someone spices things up. Corsair did just that at CES 2007 with the original Flash Padlock, a USB thumb drive whose contents users could lock by setting a code on the device itself. Today, we're looking at the 8GB Flash Padlock 2, a smaller, more rugged, and purportedly more secure successor that retains its predecessor's principal feature—and lets you reset the code if your memory ever fails you.

The Flash Padlock 2
Corsair dresses the Flash Padlock 2 in the same thick, curvy rubber garb that covers the Flash Voyager GT, although the top surface has much more going on: red and green lock lights, six buttons (including one key button and five number buttons), plus a big, blue activity light. Popping off the soft rubber cap also reveals a shiny USB 2.0 connector.

Everything related to encryption and locking happens on the drive itself, so you won't need any software to get going. You will, however, want to check the manual, because configuring the drive using the six surface buttons isn't as intuitive as it might seem.

Unlocking is simple enough: press the key button, enter your PIN, and once the green padlock light flashes, you can insert the Flash Padlock 2 in the nearest available USB port and access your data. The drive will lock itself again as soon as you remove it form the port. Feel like trying to brute-force someone else's PIN? Not so fast. After five erroneous inputs, the Flash Padlock 2 will disable itself for two minutes.

Other features are a tad less straightforward to memorize, though. To set a PIN, for instance, you'll want to press and hold the key button for three seconds, enter your PIN (up to 10 digits), then press and hold the key button again, enter your PIN again, then press the key button one last time. If you ever forget your PIN, you can press the key and 0/1 buttons simultaneously for three seconds, enter "911," and hit the key icon again. After that, the drive will mount as an unformatted volume.

There are other features, too, like a master PIN that can be set in addition to the user PIN (likely a useful feature for administrators in business environments). There's even a way to keep the Flash Padlock 2 unlocked all the time, should you wish to move it back and forth between multiple systems without having to enter the PIN each time. Good luck figuring any of those things out without the manual.

Corsair says it keeps the Flash Padlock 2's contents secure using 256-bit encryption. The firm claims to have "dramatically increased" the security of transfers between the drive and USB controller compared to the first-gen Flash Padlock, as well. We hear the drive might even be eligible for certification under the Federal Information Processing Standard, should Corsair wish to spend the necessary cash. In any case, we reckon the PIN system and the fact that the drive doesn't mount when locked will probably suffice to keep data safe from the vast, vast majority of muggers, thieves, or nosy co-workers.

Fancy security features aside, the Flash Padlock 2 ships in a fairly inconspicuous package with a blue lanyard and a USB extension cord. Why the cord, you might ask? Well, this drive is a little chubby—chubby enough that the rubber enclosure can spill across to other USB ports and render them unusable. On my MacBook, for example, plugging in the Flash Padlock 2 without the extension means sacrificing two other ports: either one Ethernet and one USB or one USB and one Mini DisplayPort. The drive similarly intrudes on other USB ports when hooked up to a typical desktop motherboard's port cluster.

Now that we know a little bit about the Flash Padlock 2, let's see if it performs as advertised—and if it's really as rugged as Corsair claims.