iStorage DiskAshur DT2 Review | PCMag | #itsecurity | #infosec | #education | #technology | #infosec


The iStorage DiskAshur DT2 (starts at $194 for 1TB; $949 for 14TB as tested), a hyper-secure desktop-style hard drive, is a formidable solution for corporations, institutions, and agencies needing to keep sensitive data safe. With a flock of protective features and boasting an impressive set of certifications, this PIN-authenticated external drive is a cinch for authorized users to access but impervious to attempts by outsiders to break in.


Lock Your Precious Data Down

The gray, black, and silver DT2 is a chunky beast, measuring 1.7 by 4.4 by 7.3 inches (HWD) and weighing 2.7 pounds. On top is an alphanumeric keypad with additional keys for lock, shift, and unlock. It uses a 3.5-inch desktop-style drive mechanism inside.


(Photo: Molly Flores)

On one end are the power switch, a jack for the 12-volt AC adapter, a USB 3.0 Type-B port—the drive comes with a USB-B to USB-A cable—and a slot for a security lock. The last is because, while bad actors may not be able to access the contents of your drive, you don’t want them walking off with it, either. Not that they’d get very far if they tried to breach the DT2’s housing—all of the drive’s components are covered by a layer of super-tough epoxy resin, which is virtually impossible to remove without causing permanent damage to the drive’s innards.


(Photo: Molly Flores)

While the Editors’ Choice award-winning iStorage DiskAshur M2 is a slim, portable solid-state drive geared largely to security-conscious consumers, the DT2 is a platter-based desk-bound hard drive available in sizes up to 18TB. It’s designed for a business or government body that needs to secure a lot of data at a high enough security level to meet stringent government certifications. While the M2 is compliant with FIPS 140-3 Level 3—a set of federal standards that describe security protocols for use by U.S. government contractors and vendors—the DT2 is FIPS 140-2 Level 2/3 compliant and adds NCSC CPA (U.K.), NLNCSA BSPA (Netherlands), and NATO Restricted certifications.

That said, the DT2 includes many of the same security features that we saw in the M2. This exFAT-formatted drive ships with a default Admin PIN that you should change during setup. It’s simple to add PINs (which can range from seven to 15 digits) for additional users. If a user forgets his or her PIN, the drive can be unlocked using the Admin PIN and the administrator can then allow the user to set a new user PIN. After 15 unsuccessful attempts to enter a code, the drive will automatically lock itself, with the encryption key deleted and the data lost.


(Photo: Molly Flores)

The drive incorporates a Common Criteria EAL5+ (hardware-certified) secure microprocessor, which enhances security through true random number generation and built-in cryptography. The data encryption key is protected by FIPS- and Common Criteria-validated wrapping algorithms.

The drive’s AES-XTS 256-bit full-disk encryption is entirely hardware-based, making it platform- and device-independent. The DiskAshur DT2 can be used with Windows, macOS, Linux, Chrome OS, Android, thin clients, zero clients, embedded systems, Citrix, VMWare—basically any system with a USB port. To use the drive, you need only plug it into a computer and enter the PIN, making the data accessible. When the drive is ejected from the host computer, all data is again encrypted using the military-grade AES-XTS standard.

The DT2 comes in 11 capacities as shown in the table below. (Although iStorage has been selling the DT2 since 2018, it was only in late 2020 that the company extended the capacities beyond 12TB.) The prices listed here are Amazon’s, which according to iStorage should be considered the list price for American customers (even though there are slightly higher prices on a U.S. info page of the U.K.-based company’s site). They were accurate as of this writing, though the Amazon prices for some models shifted somewhat during my testing.

The DT2 carries a considerable premium over non-lockbox desktop hard drives; for example, the 16TB Seagate FireCuda Gaming Hub sells for just $399.99, or 2.5 cents per gigabyte, less than half the price of the 16TB DiskAshur drive. On the other hand, it’s actually quite affordable compared to other ultra-secure platter drives. The DataLocker DL4 FE comes in both SSD and hard drive form—we tested the former—but the spinning drive maxes out at just 2TB. At current pricing, the 2TB DL4 FE hard drive costs more than twice as much as the 2TB DT2.

Since it’s a hard drive, you’d expect the DT2 to be priced lower than solid-state drives of similar capacities, and you’d be right. While the 16TB DT2 sells for $895.99, or 6 cents per gigabyte, the 15.3TB DL4 FE SSD runs about $5,500 (36 cents per gig) from the few e-tailers that carry it. The 2TB iStorage DiskAshur M2 solid-state drive sells for $416, or 21 cents a gig.


Testing the DiskAshur DT2: Decent Speed for a Platter Drive

With a 3.5-inch drive mechanism and a rated speed of up to 7,200rpm (iStorage says that the speed can range between 5,400rpm and 7,200rpm), the DT2 is among the faster external hard drives we’ve tested in recent years. Being a desktop drive, as opposed to a portable one based on a small mechanism, helps.

Its sequential read and write speeds, as measured by the Crystal DiskMark 6.0 test, are 260MBps and 256MBps respectively. Its speeds in the Mac-based BlackMagic Disk Speed test—249MBps for both read and write—proved very similar. In the table below, we compared the DT2 against a group of other secure external drives, both platter-based and SSDs.

The DT2’s speeds in Crystal DiskMark and BlackMagic were actually not that far off the lockbox SSDs from Apricorn, iStorage, DataLocker, and SecureData that we included. The Samsung and SanDisk Extreme drives in the table are standard SSDs with some security features; for example, the Samsung T7 Touch incorporates a fingerprint reader.

The PCMark 10 storage test measures a drive’s speed in performing a variety of routine tasks, specifically launching programs ranging from games and Adobe creative apps to Windows 10. The DT2 had the lowest PCMark 10 score in our test group. In its defense, its sole reason for being is for storing and protecting troves of data; nobody should buy it to run games from. (You could store a large gaming library on the DT2 with room to spare, but you could do the same on the 16TB FireCuda Gaming Hub for less than half the price.)

Our final benchmark is a folder copying test, which entails using a Mac laptop to copy a 1.2GB folder to the drive. The DT2 did the job in 7 seconds, a second slower than two of the lockbox SSDs.


Spacious, Ultra-Secure Storage

The iStorage DiskAshur DT2 is easily the highest-capacity ultra-secure hard drive we have reviewed, with our test unit holding 14TB and the largest model 18TB. It is cost-effective, particularly at higher capacities and especially when compared with similarly secure SSDs.


(Photo: Molly Flores)

The DT2 distinguishes itself from other drives we’ve seen with extensive security features by its ultra-high capacity and low cost per gigabyte. It isn’t slim or portable like many external drives. As a desktop hard drive, it is not USB-powered but must be plugged into its included AC adapter. As it will generally be used in an office or server room setting, it lacks the ruggedness of drives like iStorage’s DiskAshur M2, which carries an IP68 ingress protection rating. But it is easy for authorized users to unlock and access, and it has a slew of security features and certifications to assure you it’ll keep bad guys out. The DiskAshur DT2 earns Editors’ Choice honors as a security-centric external hard drive.

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