The Padlock is a mobile data safe secured by a PIN entered from a built-in keypad. If it is locked, any computer that it is plugged into won't detect it as a USB device until the correct PIN is entered. A non-replaceable battery allows the PIN to be keyed-in before the stick is inserted into the USB port. The Padlock is a cross-platform device that does not need drivers.
The device is essentially a garden-variety USB memory stick with a power switch that can be turned on or off by entering a PIN code. Inside its black housing, the Padlock consists of two circuit boards. The USB controller and flash memory are located on the main circuit board, which is connected to a second circuit board that handles the PIN power switching. Data is stored as written to the stick, there is no on-board encryption.
The fundamental vulnerability of the design is that it is easily broken open and the PIN power lock bypassed, by connecting an external supply. It isn't necessary to know the PIN, just find the right contacts, apply suitable power from an outside source and the Padlock hands over the data without complaint. The only small security hurdle is breaking into the case.
We were able to open previous Padlock versions using a screwdriver. The housing on the new product series is a little tougher, being injection-moulded from a filler material. Even so, it can be worked with sharp or hot tools; it is even transparent, making the internal components and connection points easy to identify. Simple tools can, with only a few minutes work, provide access to the power rail pin .
The manufacturer points out that the device is not intended to provide a high level of security, but rather is aimed at consumers that do not want their Padlock to be readily accessible to just anyone that finds it. Those who want more security should encrypt their data with encryption software, such as the free TrueCrypt. Data is then secured, even on a standard USB memory stick.
Still, for a reasonable price users do get a device that presents a small security hurdle. However, such a data-safe may also tempt the experimental side of the finder. After all, data worth securing must be important. The Padlock simply does not offer serious protection against unauthorised access.
Padlock USB 2.0
USB stick with PIN code lock
USB extension, carrying strap, instruction guide
Data transfer rate
28.4 MB/s read, 9.8 MB/s write
2 GB £14, 4 GB £20 (street)