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CRU ToughTech Secure m3 Review

Review of the ToughTech Secure m3 encrypted external disk drive

The ToughTech Secure m3 is an external, 2.5in drive enclosure for encrypted file storage. It comes with three hardware encryption keys. The company also offers to buy an encryption key creator tool for when you need to generate your own keys.

The ToughTech Secure m3 is a dark grey aluminium enclosure with red ABS front and back bezels. The unit is Kensington lock ready, is handheld – it’s not much bigger than the 2.5in drive it’s designed to contain – and powered via its USB 3.0 port. It comes with three small mini-USB plugs that actually are your (identical, so three people can decrypt the drive) encryption keys. In the box you’ll also find three lanyards and some other things to label the drive and keys with.

Overall, the design is cute, the installation of a drive is a piece of cake and the black lanyards – what a relief! – don’t have advertising all over them, so they can be hung around your neck without attracting attention at all.

The unit’s security comes from hardware-based 256-bit AES encryption that protects data quite well. On the SSL Store blog you can read an elaborate explanation of 256-bit AES protection. I’ll suffice by saying a 256-bit private key will have a number of possible combinations that is around 78 digits long – try read that out loud.

So, the images of your latest fashion shoot, your worldwide Top-of-the-pops hit or famous couple wedding video are quite secure. Perhaps a government agency of a country like Russia, the US or China will have no trouble breaking the cipher, but the average police force’s cybercrime squad of an average country will have a hard time cracking it.

I was curious what would happen if I just removed the drive – my test drive is a SanDisk SSD – and try to mount it. It didn’t mount. Mojave macOS complained the disk wasn’t readable and therefore had to be initialised. Since then, I have reinstalled it and I’m keeping my DEVONthink Pro 3 databases on it, including the one that contains my astrology ebooks – I can now rest assured people won’t ever know about them and think I’m bonkers.

Seriously though, the ToughTech Secure m3 is a data protection dream come true. It is easy to use as well. It can be started up by plugging it into your Mac’s USB port with the encryption key removed but fear not: in that case, the drive won’t even mount.

Plug in the key and it will mount in WriteProtect read-only mode. From then on, if you plug in the USB cable with the encryption key inserted, the WriteProtect mode will remain in force. It’s only when you’ve plugged in the key after plugging in the USB connector again while press-holding the small button on the front bezel that the unit will switch to full write mode.

The ToughTech Secure m3 encrypts the entire drive, including boot sector, file allocation table, OS and all temporary and swap files, and it encrypts/decrypts at full disk bandwidth operation. That sounds impressive but isn’t too fast. Actually, my SSD lost a little less than a third of its performance compared to connecting it bare.

Still, for sensitive information, that’s a cost I for one am willing to pay.

CRU’s ToughTech Secure m3 retails at 79 USD and can be purchased directly from their website.

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