MyFlash Fingerprint Disk FP1 Review

skinny - 2006-11-21 10:21:32 in Storage / Hard Drives
Category: Storage / Hard Drives
Reviewed by: skinny   
Reviewed on: December 14, 2006
MyFlash

Introduction

What was once possible only in the realm of Star-Trek, or maybe Maxwell Smart, is now more than just possible, it is becoming a part of our day-to-day society. Biometrics can be defined as using unique human physical characteristics, such as fingerprints, eyes, or facial patterns, to identify individuals, usually for security purposes. In this age of high-technology and even higher security, these devices are becoming more readily available to the public. Such devices can now fit in your pants pocket.

This brings me to the MyFlash Fingerprint Disk, produced by A-Data Technology. This is a standard size USB 2.0 flash drive, but includes the security of a fingerprint swipe system. I must say, when I first saw this little item, I was skeptical about its reliability. I mean, the government has been talking for years about using biometrics for security at places such as airports, but has been unable to implement a system that works and is cost efficient. But I, as a consumer, can purchase, for a reasonable price, a reliable, secure, fingerprint recognition system? I was pondering the government and how it always seems to be years behind, and then it happened. “Fingerprint Device Not Registered”… I will explain shortly.

A-Data Technology was founded in 2001 in Taiwan. In only five years, the company has won numerous awards for their technological innovations, and has been ranked in the Top 5 worldwide in the areas of DRAM modules and Flash Drives. They also produce flash memory cards and readers along with MP3 players.

Closer Look



The MyFlash Fingerprint Disk is available with storage capacities of 256 MB, 512 MB, 1 GB, and 2GB, the last of which is the size being reviewed. It comes packaged in a small clear plastic case that has a pleasantly styled cardboard insert with a fingerprint background. I suggest having a sharp knife available when you open it, because it is heat stamped around the edges, making it impossible to open without a sharp object. I thought it was the drive that was supposed to be impossible to get into, not the packaging.

Once you get the package open, you will find the cardboard insert which lists the product specs in ten languages. Included is a small CD-ROM, which is required for use on computers running anything prior to Windows XP, and there is a nice shiny silver USB cord, which is only about 2 feet long. And last, but definitely not least, you have the Fingerprint Disk (commonly known as a flash drive, jump drive, USB stick, thumb drive, etc).


The drive is similar in size to most other flash drives I have seen. It comes with a sleeve that covers the USB plug, the fingerprint sensor, and the LED indicator. The entire case is made of smooth white plastic, but has some small bumps on the sleeve to grip when removing the sleeve from the drive. When looking at the drive, and in particular the fingerprint sensor, all you see is a small black rectangle with a smaller gold-colored rectangle inside it. The sensor does not look like anything special, but it sure appeared to work well. While I have seen some very cheap looking and feeling USB drives, I was quite impressed with this one. It feels quite sturdy, yet lightweight, and it looks very professional.

This drive will work on any computer with a USB port running Windows 98/98SE, Windows 2000, or Windows ME/XP.

Installation

Installation on a computer running Windows 2000/ME/XP is quite simple. Plug the drive (with or without the included USB cord) into an available USB 2.0 port. When I did this, it seemed to take quite awhile for the computer to recognize the drive. I realized afterwards that unlike most USB drives which can simply be plugged in and used, there is software included on this drive that auto-installs. This is required in order for the fingerprint recognition to work. If you do not allow this software to install, you can not use the drive. For computers running Windows 98/98SE, you need to install from the included CD-ROM. Once the software is installed, you will see two new devices listed: APDisk and a Removable Disk. APDisk is where your programs are located, and Removable Disk is your storage location.
 
Once your programs are installed, you can begin to setup the fingerprint security system. A screen will pop up which shows the outline of two hands. Click on the first finger you wish to register. Swipe your chosen finger over the sensor. You may have to swipe several times before it locks in. Once that finger is complete, you can continue on with other fingers. These are the basic steps you need to use this drive.
(note: all photos displaying actual fingerprints have been blurred for security reasons)

 


There are other features that are included with this drive, some of which do require some setup. This drive has a very informative Help file that explains just how to use these other settings. This includes an email function, the ability to save your Internet Explorer Favorites and passwords on the drive, and the ability to encrypt files and directories on the hard drive of your system. Setting these features up is quite easy, and well explained by the Help file, so I won’t repeat it all here. I will explain the features with more detail later.
 
 

Testing

 
Basic testing of this drive involved me simply setting up the fingerprints and then trying simple tactics to beat it. I had other people try swiping their fingers. This did not work. I tried swiping my other fingers instead of the ones required. This did not work either. 
 
I tried swiping my finger while it was dirty. This either required extra swipes, or would not access at all. While the directions indicate that you should swipe your finger in a downward motion with your finger directly inline with the drive, I tried swiping my set-up fingers at different angles, finding that the drive accepted the prints straight, upside down, and at a 45 degree angle, but it would not read it if I tried swiping it with my finger perpendicular to the drive.
 
When you plug this drive into your computer, you are required to swipe your finger to be able to access the drive. The drive also has a setting in it that allows you to change the amount of time that print is “active”. It is designed so that if you leave your computer for a set amount of time or more, the fingerprint deactivates, making the drive secure again. This can be set to any user-defined amount of time. If your print has deactivated, you simply re-swipe your finger to once again access your information.
 
The IE Autologin feature saves your login and password for websites. It actually adds an option into your Explorer menu to save your login. Simply go to a website of your choosing, fill in your details, and before hitting enter, select IE Autologin from the menu. Then, when you enter your details, it saves them on to your flash drive. The next time you wish to enter that site, simply open the IE Autologin function in your flash drive menu, and it will show you a list of sites with saved passwords. Select the site you want to access, and it will open that site in a new Internet Explorer window. After several seconds, your details will auto-fill, and you are then logged in. I tried several websites, and this worked for all of them. This only works with Internet Explorer, so people using Firefox and other browsers are out of luck with this feature.
 
Another Internet Explorer-only function is the ability to save your Favorites list on the drive. This way, when switching from computer to computer, you have access to your entire bookmark list. It is very straightforward: when you want to access a site, you simply open that feature on the menu, and it will bring up the list of Favorites that you have saved. Select the page you want to view, and it will open it in an Internet Explorer window.
 
The Flashmail feature allows you to save all of your email accounts on the drive, and open those drives from other computers using the drive’s built-in email viewer. The program can automatically take your email addresses from Outlook Express, or you can manually add them. You can also import your address book from Outlook.
 
In order to encrypt your files, simply open Windows Explorer, select the file or directory you wish to encrypt, right-click on it, and select “Encrypt File”. To regain access to it, right-click and select “Decrypt File”. Pretty simple. Once a file is encrypted, you can still access it without decrypting as long as your fingerprint is still active. If your print is not active, then you can not access the file. Thumbnails of encrypted photos and videos are changed to the generic display picture for whatever file type is encrypted. All encrypted files and directories are indicated by a small red lock image on the bottom right of the file icon. Encrypting large files and directories can take quite some time, but a simple image file can be encrypted in a matter of seconds. The file name of the encrypted file does not change.
 
Now, for the good stuff. I enlisted the help of a Law Enforcement Fingerprint Expert. Together, we tried many different ways to beat this sensor. I will not go into full details, as some of the techniques and materials that we used are still considered to be “security sensitive”, but we were unable to defeat the sensor. Our testing involved simulating my fingerprint on various materials including paper, plastic, and various rubber and clay-type substances. Some of it was quite “CSI”, but we stopped short of going full on “Myth-Busters”, because we did not have the time nor money to invest in this testing. I am quite confident that the average person will not be able to defeat this security feature.
 
Before I could get to the benchmark testing, I ran into an issue. It was quite a large issue, actually. I began to get the following error message:
 
I tried the device on several different systems, and got the same message every time. Attempts to contact the supplier went unanswered. Internet searches failed to locate a fix. So, I now have a nice fancy USB drive that has some important files locked away, with no way for me to access them. I am glad they are copies, and not vitally important.  I waited until all the testing was completed before doing screen captures of the testing of the included programs.  Because the drive died on me, I was unable to obtain those screen shots.  I apologize, but I simply was not expecting to have such a catastrophic failure.

Conclusion

 
When viewed simply as a flash drive, the MyFlash FP1 appeared excellent. It is compact and looks nice. When you include the other features, such as the email and password functions, it seems even better. Throw in the security of fingerprint recognition, and this device had the potential to be hands-down my new favorite gadget. When it was working, it made a great conversation piece, as most people can’t believe that fingerprint recognition could fit into something so compact, and everyone wants to know how well it works.   
 
Well, I will tell you how well it works. Or, at least, how it WORKED. For the average person who simply wants to save their passwords and keep some files and photos safe from prying eyes, it was pretty good. It is extremely easy to use, along with all the included features. It has more storage space than the first five computers I ever owned, combined. It works with practically all Windows-based computers. The problem was that it quit working. There is no warranty or contact information in the packaging. There is no online help file that I could find. 
 
Even if the device continued to work, if you happen to have access to files that would be a threat to National Security if they fell into the wrong hands, I would probably suggest a more secure storage method. It isn’t that I don’t trust the encryption used in this device. It is that I know that with enough time and technology, any security device can be beaten. I simply do not have the time, the money, or knowledge to put toward breaking this encryption. If someone can show me testing data on how secure it is, I may change my mind on it.
 
The device worked for about 3 months before it died. I am not sure if the issue with it now is a hardware failure, or if the fingerprint sensor got dirty, or if it is a programming issue. We were unable to make contact with anyone that could tell us. It is a shame too, since I was prepared to name this the coolest little must-have gadget of the year. Now it is simply something cool that if you have some extra cash to blow, you may want to invest in as a temporary conversation starter.

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