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LaCie Safe 250GB biometric hard drive

Fingerprint security

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After ejecting the drive from the Mac, I carried it over to an Alienware M5500 Windows XP notebook and plugged it in. Windows registers the presence of the drive, listing it in My Computer as a removable drive. Double-clicking on the icon pops up the a dialogue that requests you insert a disk. Instead, I ejected the drive, installed LaCie's software, then plugged the hard drive back in. This time, tapping the sensor invoked the fingerprint-scan dialogue, and I was able to swipe my finger and either unlock the drive or re-configure the three user accounts.

lacie safe biometric hard drive

Any attempt I made, on the Mac or the PC, to access the drive with unregistered fingers - mine or other folks' - proved unsuccessful, as did trying to open the drive on machines that didn't have LaCie's software installed. I didn't try it on a Linux box, or on machines with ancient versions of the other operating systems, but go too far back and you won't get USB support in any case.

Physically, the drive is encased in a two-part 18.8 x 11.6 x 4.4cm shell: a brushed-metal look plastic top which fits over the black base. There are no screws visible, so you're looking at breaking the casing open to get the disk itself out. Anticipating such a move, LaCie has tied the disk to the board through hard-coded ID tags to prevent it from being connected to another enclosure or computer. There's a Kensington slot on the back to allow the unit to be physically locked down.

The disk inside the drive is a 7,200rpm model with at least 8MB of cache. I ran our usual hard drive performance test: create on the drive a folder containing ten 20MB files and then duplicate it. The Safe yielded a (fast) average time of 21.23s - a rate of 9.42MBps. Copying the same folder off the drive took 10.26s.

As is ships, the drive is formatted with a FAT32 file system, primarily for cross-platform compatibility. But it's easy enough to reformat the drive once you unlocked it. I re-partitioned the drive into two equal FAT32 zones. Both mounted correctly on the Mac, but I couldn't get the PC to see the second partition. Ejecting one partition on the Mac auto-ejected the other. However, the drive thought the disks were still unlocked.

The moral here is retain the single partition - the Safe seems happier that way. Another moral is watch your fingers. The Safe's AC adaptor runs hot and so does the drive itself - including the fingerprint scanner. You have to move your fingertip over the scanner slowly - go too quickly and it doesn't scan correctly - and you certainly feel the heat.

A third warning: keep away from the scanner. I accidentally tapped the sensor mid-partition without realising it and the drive went ahead and locked on me. Fortunately, I was able to recover it.

Verdict

There's an old saying that what one coder can hack, another can crack, and I wouldn't like to say hand on heart that LaCie's Safe drive is entirely impregnable. Data-security obsessives may feel uncomfortable without data encryption, but there's nothing to stop anyone encrypting the data on the drive with a third-party app. If LaCie runs true to form you can expect an auto-encrypting version of the Safe in due course. Meanwhile, the current model provides solid data protection at a very reasonable price. ®

Application security programs and practises

90%

LaCie Safe 250GB biometric hard drive

Solid hard drive, fingerprint security, great performance - what more could you want for external storage?
Price: $180 (250GB), $230 (320GB), $350 (500GB) RRP

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