REVIEW: BlockMaster SafeStick SuperSonic Provides Blazing Speed and Hardware Data Encryption

 
 
By Matthew Sarrel  |  Posted 2010-02-11
 
 
 

REVIEW: BlockMaster SafeStick SuperSonic Provides Blazing Speed and Hardware Data Encryption


BlockMaster, headquartered in Lund, Sweden, has been making rugged and encrypted USB removable storage for more than five years, and its take on the market is slightly different from that of Lexar and IronKey, whose devices we've recently reviewed. Weighing in at a svelte 9 grams, the SafeStick SuperSonic is much smaller and lighter than the others. It's more of an armor-plated USB key than a USB key immersed in a brick of epoxy. The drive also ships with a very capable management console, SafeConsole, which can be used to lock down every aspect of removable media that I could think of.

The SafeStick SuperSonic took a beating during my testing. It impressively survived most acts of torture, but overall was not as unflappable as the IronKey and Lexar drives. Provided with three units, I placed one suspended under a buoy in Barnegat Bay for almost two winter months. I had to chip through the ice to get it, but once I dried it off and allowed it to reach room temperature, it functioned perfectly. And I did my usual throwing it off the roof of a four-story building, spiking it down a flight of stairs, running it through the washing machine and giving it a brief stint in the toaster oven-all of which it survived with nary a scratch. 

Check out eWEEK Labs' images of the SafeStick SuperSonic USB key in action here. 

The SafeStick SuperSonic was lucky enough to join me on my vacation-I mean field testing-in the Philippines in January. It survived several days tied to a car's bumper in metro Manila, a ferry ride during a tropical depression in Cebu, and tied to the outside of my backpack during hikes up the Mayon and Pinatubo volcanoes. It partied for 18 straight hours in honor of Santo Nino at Ati-Atihan in Kalibo.  And then it rested on the beach in Boracay for three days.

When we returned home, I performed my favorite test-smashing it between two 20-pound dumbbells. A few whacks and I was left with a very thin and unusable memory key that reminded me of a penny placed on a railroad track and run over by a train. Needless to say, it was rendered unusable. 

The SafeStick SuperSonic will definitely take more abuse than a regular USB key and is no slouch when it comes to durability, but the IronKey and Lexar units are more solidly constructed. If you've got normal users, this is not an issue. However, if you're equipping a team of U.S. Navy SEALS who might actually need bulletproof USB removable storage, then skip the SafeStick SuperSonic.

Impressive Performance

What the SafeStick SuperSonic lacks in durability, it more than makes up for in performance. It performed extremely well in all performance tests, as is expected because it uses SLC flash memory. Using the ATTO Disk Benchmark, throughput maxed out at 25.5MB/s write and 33.1MB/s read using an 8,192KB/s transfer size. Copying a 691MB file to the encrypted volume took 33.9 seconds (20.4MB/s), and copying it back took 22.8 seconds (30.3MB/s). For reference, a "normal" or "el cheapo" USB stick does 6.6MB/s write and 24.0MB/s read in ATTO and takes 3 minutes anda987MB file.

Powerful Management Software


 

Powerful Management Software

BlockMaster provides highly configurable management software, SafeConsole, in a variety of versions. Each contains different features, ranging from the free Intro version, which only lets you set up password policy, to Enforce&Enable, which packs the whole enchilada. After installing SafeConsole on my Windows 2003 Server SE test machine, I ran the configuration wizard. I integrated SafeConsole with Microsoft Active Directory and imported the users and OUs (organizational units) from my directory. Then I created various management accounts (administrator, manager, support) and assigned passwords and applied restrictions so that SafeConsole could be managed only from my local IP address range.

From there, it's reasonably straightforward to create various policies such as password creation, password recovery and device backup, and assign them to users and/or OUs. The lack of any sort of help is troubling. Most things are easy enough to figure out with the decent descriptions that usually appear below an option and top-level general settings are explained in the PDF documentation, but I did encounter settings with no explanation. 

Lost drive management is worthy of note. Administrators can configure SafeSticks to connect to SafeConsole at least every x number of days (the administrator can choose the number of days), and if they don't, then set the drive to "lost" or "disabled." I was dutifully warned in the PDF manual that this is based on the system clock and can easily be tricked. Lost drives can be unlocked with data intact. Disabled drives wipe data and must be reprovisioned. 

There are some helpful features for organizations looking to control removable USB storage. An administrator can configure authentication via Windows credentials (the username is mapped to the device before deployment and so when the user gets the device, he or she just plugs it in) while at the same time preventing all other removable storage from being mounted. Files can be published securely to SafeSticks over a network from the management console. Usage can be restricted to certain file types to prevent users from saving .exe, .dll, .bat or anything else to the media. The drives currently only support Windows and Mac OS, not Linux.

BlockMaster SafeStick SuperSonic and SafeConsole Enforce&Enable are very good solutions for deploying and managing rugged and encrypted removable USB media. They meet MIL-STD-810F waterproof standards and are in the process of obtaining FIPS 140-2 certification. Although somewhat less rugged, the SafeStick SuperSonic is much smaller and speedier than the Lexar and the IronKey.

Pricing for a 4GB SafeStick SuperSonic USB key is $139; an 8GB version costs $219 (volume discounts apply). The Intro version of SafeConsole is free for all orders of over 100 devices, while pricing begins at $14 per device per year for the Enforce version and $18 per device per year for SafeConsole Enforce&Enable.

 


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