DataLocker DL4FE Encrypted Drive Review

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Founded in 2007, DataLocker has earned a solid reputation as the provider of secure storage devices used by two-thirds of Fortune 100 companies.

Its devices range from flash drives to larger HDD and SSD based devices, and all are secured using 256-bit AES encryption.

A common characteristic of encrypted storage devices is that they require local software installations to enable unlocking, a necessity that introduces an additional point of potential insecurity.

One approach to this problem involved using a Bluetooth-connected phone as the unlocking interface, introducing new security issues.

The new DL4FE avoids software installations and Bluetooth phones by integrating an unlock interface directly on the device.

Was this the right direction to take, or is a touchscreen just an alternate issue?

Price and availability

The DataLocker DL4FE is available in two varieties, SSD and HDD, with capacities of 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB for HDD and 1 TB, 2 TB, 4 TB, 7.6 TB and 15.3 TB on SSD.

We won’t list all the prices, but to get an idea, the 1TB HDD model costs £361.39 ($429) and the 1TB SSD costs £527.17 ($679). And for those with bottomless pockets, the 15.3TB SSD option costs £4643.22 ($5399).

It’s expensive compared to the SecureData SecureDrive BT (also FIPS 140-2 Level 3 validated). It costs £190.21 for the 1TB HDD and £300.37 for the same size SSD, and its 16TB model costs £2,936.91.

DataLocker DL4FE Encrypted Disk

(Image credit: DataLocker Inc.)

Design and features

The size of the DL4FE reveals that inside is a 2.5-inch HDD or SSD, thickened by the addition of a 45 x 57mm touchscreen on top.

The construction is a combination of aluminum and reinforced plastic, and the contents inside are no doubt still protected with resin or the like.

Our review drive was the 1TB SSD model, weighing 262g without any associated USB cables. Two USB cables are included with the reader for Type-A and Type-C connections, and the reader has a single Type-C port.

The box also contains a soft cover for the reader. It has a front pocket that’s too small to hold even a cable, and the drive doesn’t fit in the pocket with a cable attached.

No instructions are provided, although full documentation is available in PDF format on the DataLocker website.

When you turn on the player for the first time by connecting it to a computer, the input screen becomes active and asks for a password. Forgetting this password will make it impossible to access the content, so it is vital to create one that you will remember.

Once this is set, a connection can be established and the drive can be formatted into whatever file system the user requires. The DL4FE works with Mac, PC, and Linux systems, among others, as you can format the drive.

The next time the player is connected, the password will unlock it on the computer or other devices it is connected to.

If that all sounds remarkably simple for a secure encrypted drive, then you’re right to some extent, but as with all technology, the devil is in the details.

DataLocker DL4FE Encrypted Disk

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Used

Ignoring the fact that the creator of the soft carrying pouch never saw the USB cables, the first problem most DL4FE owners will encounter is the touchscreen.

Even in promotional images of DataLocker, it is shown being used with fingers, which is unrealistic for many. Each keytop on the display keyboard is a fraction of the thickness of a typical adult finger, and the only user who could easily use it would be one under 10 years old.

Maybe using it with your fingers is technically possible, but not with your reviewer’s Bratwurst scale numbers, it’s not.

A better solution is to use either a soft tablet pointing device or, as we did, a propellant pencil with a rubber eraser to make selecting keys easier.

Using a stylus or something similar works so much better that one wonders why DataLocker didn’t include one, or even housed one in the case?

The interface can be configured in four languages, English, French, German and Spanish, and it can also be configured for multiple users and have password complexity rules defined.

Achieving FIPS 140-2 Level 3 device certification requires achieving security, cryptography, and intrusion detection standards that should make the device nearly impenetrable.

Having passed this and other certifications, the DL4FE is considered highly secure, and it cannot be hacked by brute-force password assault or invasive techniques.

DataLocker DL4FE Encrypted Disk

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Oddly enough, it is possible, because the US military has set FIPS 140, to increase the password length to 64 characters.

Other than someone specially trained to recall complex random sequences, like the exact order of multiple decks of cards, it would be nearly impossible to recall 64 random letters, numbers, and symbols in the correct order if they changed regularly.

DataLocker has implemented many special security features, like SilentKill, a special password that you give to those who torture you to make the drive inaccessible forever and guarantee that they will then kill you out of frustration.

For those who pay extra, DataLocker also offers a remote management console that can remotely destroy drive content, scan the drive for malware, geofence where the drive is accessible, and relay all activity on the drive. ‘unity.

For those working in secure data, there is something for everyone in this solution.

DataLocker DL4FE CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4 Encrypted Disk

(Image credit: Mark Pickavance)

Performance

Landmarks

Here’s how the DataLocker DL4FE fared in our benchmark test suite:

CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4: 268.68 Mbps (read); 260.63 MB/s (write)
ATTO: 255.49 MB/s (read, 256 MB); 248.54 MB/s (write, 256 MB)
AS SSD: 250.48 Mbps (sequential read); 241.97 Mbps (sequential write)
AJA: 250 Mbps (read); 243 Mbps (write)

Considering the test model was an SSD variant and not an HDD, transfer speeds were disappointing.

The drive topped out well below 270MB/s for reads and writes in our CrystalDiskMark tests and was even lower when challenged by AS SSD and ATTO.

It must be said that most disks that use hardware encryption suffer from a performance penalty for these additional operations, but not to this extent.

Part of the problem here is that the USB interface used is only USB 3.2 Gen 1, formerly known as USB 3.0. This has a maximum throughput of 5 Gbps, which when converted to megabytes per second is about 625 MB/s.

But what one can reasonably guess about the DL4FE based on the proposed SSD capacities is that the internal drive is SATA type and not NVMe, and therefore its SATA interface limitations are closer to 550MB/ s.

How it ended up at half that speed is a mystery, but the DL4FE isn’t your friend if you’ve got a flight or train to catch and need to copy a lot of data before you go.

DataLocker DL4FE Encrypted Disk

(Image credit: DataLocker Inc.)

final verdict

The DL4FE’s security credentials are hard to fault, and the ability to operate without adding software to the host system is a significant advantage.

Some of the features, like the Silentkill password, seem intended to appeal to those who think it’s intelligence material, but those are the features that secure disk manufacturers are including these days.

Considering the price, and this is normal for any device described as “secure”, the DL4FE should come with a pouch that properly holds the two cables in addition to the storage device. DataLocker should also include a stylus, ideally on a lanyard so it can’t be misplaced, or use a phone screen large enough to facilitate finger picking.

By the standards of those who don’t need secure storage, the DL4FE might seem slow and outrageously expensive. But it ticks all the right boxes for those in control of sensitive information.

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