Cybersecurity is probably one of the hottest topics right now. Data is often worth far more than the equipment it is stored on. Losing a phone or a computer that is not properly protected can have dire consequences. Even worse, mislaying or dropping a USB thumb drive or hard disk with sensitive corporate or government data on it can have terrible consequences and yet we still hear tales of people losing thumb drives with sensitive data stored on them.

However, we need to move data around and, sometimes, we need to access data where there may not be any access to the cloud where so much data is stored. In those circumstances, how can data be protected on a removable device so that it can’t be accessed by anyone but authorized users? 

Earlier this year I reviewed the Kingston IronKey USB drive which is a password-protected drive with high-level encryption that’s sufficiently secure to be approved for use by NATO. The Kingston DataTraveler DT2000 is also a protected USB thumb drive that includes full-disk 256-bit hardware-based encryption and access is secured using a physical alphanumeric keypad, enabling it to be used on any computer by just about anyone, but if it is lost or stolen, the chances of anyone being able to crack the PIN is very slim.

The Kingston DT2000 is about the size of a small pack of chewing gum and comes with ten rubberized alphanumeric keys as well as a button with a key symbol for entering PINs and also accessing extra security functions. The drive also sports three LEDs that indicate the status of the drive. There’s a main blue LED to show drive activity, plus red and green LEDs to indicate when the drive has been unlocked.

Using the DT2000 is a simple matter of pressing the key symbol and then entering the PIN followed by a press of the key symbol again. The PIN must consist of at least 7 to 15 digits and can’t be made up of consecutive numbers or repeated numbers. The code can be a memorable word by using the letters printed on each key in much the same way as a word can be composed on a press-button telephone.

The first thing users of the DT2000 need to do is create a new PIN to overwrite the default code that’s provided with the thumb drive. There’s a small rechargeable battery inside the drive that powers a chip used to encrypt data as it’s being written. For corporate users, an admin PIN can be set so that if a user forgets their PIN, it can be reset by the corporate IT or security department using the closely guarded admin code.

The DT2000 can also be set to a read-only mode which prohibits writing any data to the drive. This is ideal for protecting a drive from malicious code being transferred to it. A timeout setting can also be set to protect the drive if it’s plugged into a computer and left unattended. The timeout period can be set from 1 to 99 minutes, after which the PIN will need to be re-entered. There’s even a function for deleting all files on the drive using key sequences on the keypad. 

If the drive should fall into the wrong hands and the finder attempts to access the data by guessing the PIN code, the drive will delete the user PIN and the data will be preserved. If the drive doesn’t have an admin PIN set, then 10 unsuccessful attempts will see all the data on the drive erased and lost forever.

It’s theoretically possible to physically break open the drive and try to access the memory directly from the memory chips, but as the data is encrypted, the hacker would probably be disappointed. If all the PIN codes have been forgotten it’s even possible to reset the drive, enabling it to be used again, but all the data will be lost when it is reset so that’s not a backdoor route to the data. The drive is also FIPS 140-2 Level 3 certified, so should please most security experts. 

The speed of the Kingston DT 2000 is good. When the 128GB model is used with a USB 3.0 port it can read at 135MB/s and write at 40MB/s. The lower capacity versions are slightly slower but not massively so. The drive is compatible with Windows, macOS, Linux and Chrome. The storage parameters range from -20°C to 60°C, so that should be fine for those difficult assignments in the Arctic or the tropics. Additionally, the drive is waterproof and dustproof to the IP57 and comes with a three-year warranty with free technical support.

Verdict: The Kingston DataTraveler DT2000 is a well-made and ultra-secure USB thumb drive and comes in a variety of capacities ranging from 4GB to 128GB. The system has been well thought out, but a careful reading of the user guide is essential to get the most from it. The keypads are protected with a metal sleeve that slips on and covers the rubber keys from damage or prying fingers. All the user has to do is remember the PIN code to access the data on the DT2000. These drives should be mandatory for ALL government data. They ought to be the natural choice for corporate users, too. Loss of customer data can cost companies and governments millions of dollars in fines if data protection laws are broken by a breach of security. For the sake of a few hundred dollars, all ultra-sensitive data should be secured on these drives.

Pricing and availability: The Kingston 128GB DataTraveler DT2000 is available now at the following capacities and costs  £182.39 / $255.99

More info:

Tech Specs:

  • Interface: USB 3.1 Gen 1 (USB 3.0)
  • Hardware data encryption: 256-bit AES in XTS mode
  • Certified to FIPS 140-2 Level 3
  • Capacities: 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB
  • Speed: USB 3.1 4GB: 80MB/s read, 12MB/s write. 8GB-16GB: 120MB/s read, 20MB/s write, 32GB-128GB: 135MB/s read, 40MB/s write
  • Speed: USB 2.0 4GB-8GB: 30MB/s read, 12MB/s write, 16GB-128GB: 30MB/s read, 20MB/s write
  • Dimensions (with sleeve): 80mm x 20mm x 10.5mm
  • Dimensions (without sleeve): 78mm x 18mm x 8mm
  • Waterproof/dustproof: Certified to IP57 rating
  • Compatibility: USB 3.0 compliant and 2.0 compatible
  • Operating temperature: 0°C to 40°C
  • Storage temperature: -20°C to 60°C
  • Minimum system requirements: USB 3.0 compliant and 2.0 compatible
  • Compatible with: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, macOS v.10.12.x – 10.15.x, Linux kernel v.4.4.x, Chrome OS Android3
  • Warranty/support: 3-year warranty with free technical support

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