Aegis Fortress L3: A super-secure portable drive [Review]

If you have private files that you want to be able to access when on the go, you could consider uploading them to the cloud, or carrying them around on a USB flash drive. The trouble with the former option is you’re entrusting your content to a third party, and in the case of the latter, you run the risk of losing the drive, allowing anyone who finds it to view your data. You could protect your files using software encryption, but it’s not 100 percent secure.

A much better, and far safer solution is to store your data on a hardware encrypted USB drive like the Aegis Fortress L3.

Apricorn says this is its toughest, fastest and most secure drive yet. It is designed to completely meet NIST FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) 140-2 Level 3 requirements, and comes with a tamper-resistant enclosure milled from a solid block of aircraft-grade 6061 aluminum alloy (with snap-off uni-directional security fasteners), and a polymer coated, membrane-style, wear resistant keyboard.

To get started with the drive, you just need to connect it to your device, and then set up a PIN. For security reasons, it doesn’t come with a default one. With the LEDs glowing solid green and blue, press the green unlock and 9 keys together. This will cause the green light to start flashing. Enter the admin PIN you want to use (this has to be between 7 and 16 digits long and they can’t be all the same, or consecutive) and press the green unlock button. Enter the PIN again and press the green unlock button a second time. The green light will glow steadily for three seconds, then the blue light will indicate that the drive is now in admin mode. It will stay this way for 30 seconds or until you press the red lock key.

To access your drive at any time, press the red lock key, enter your PIN, and then press the green unlock button.

Once unlocked, you can copy data to and from the drive. It comes pre-formated in NTFS for Windows, so you will need to reformat it if using it on a Mac.

You can add a user PIN (in addition to the admin one), which will give someone else more limited access, create one-time user recovery PINs, and set read-only or read/write modes for both Admin and User.

There’s an optional lock-override mode which will prevent the drive from locking at inopportune moments, and you can set a self-destruct PIN should you need to. When this is entered -- perhaps to appear to be unlocking the drive at the 'request' of a malicious third-party -- the disk will be completely wiped clean, making it look as if it never had any data on it in the first place.

You can also perform a less drastic complete reset of the drive at any time, should you choose to.

The Aegis Fortress L3 seamlessly encrypts data as it’s being written to the drive, protecting it with military grade, hardware-only AES-XTS 256-bit encryption. This ensures that even in the unlikely event of someone being able to extract the drive from the enclosure, they won’t be able to read your data.

As well as the drive itself, the box contains a travel pouch, USB 3.1 Type-A and Type-C cables, and a quick start guide.

The Aegis Fortress L3 is available in a choice of storage capacities -- 500GB - 5TB in HDD and 512GB - 16TB in SSD. The model I tested was the 500GB HDD, and it worked flawlessly, locking and unlocking every time.

I only have one small criticism, and it’s this. I have a number of similar hardware-encrypted drives, and they come with the USB cable built-in. This isn’t the case with the Aegis Fortress L3 because it has both USB-A and USB-C cables. If you disconnect the cable there’s always the risk of forgetting to take it with the drive. However, there’s a place in the travel pouch for the cables, so hopefully this won’t be an issue.

Aegis Fortress L3 is priced from $239 for the 500GB HDD model, and $359 for the 512GB SSD. You can buy it from Apricorn here.

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