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IronKey
Secure tamper-resistant flash drive

Ironkey™ is a secure tamper-resistant USB memory stick with built-in military-grade encryption, developed in 2009 by Imation 1 in Minnesota (USA). It is currently sold by Kingston Digital under the IronKey™ brand name. IronKey drives are water-proof, tamper-proof and password protected. Any attempt to gain unauthorised access to the data will initiate a self-destruct sequence.
 
IronKey USB drives are compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, in a variety of storage capacities. The user's data stored in the device's flash memory is protected by strong military-grade AES CBC-Mode 2 encryption, for which the user can configure the password. This password is needed to retrieve the data later.

The data is protected against password attacks. Entering the wrong password 10 consecutive times, causes the device to self-destruct. Any physical tampering with the device will trigger the internal self-destruct sequence immediately.
  
IronKey with protective cap removed

Once destroyed, the device can never be used again and there is no way to retrieve the data that was once stored on it. This makes it virtually impossible to retrieve data from an accidentally lost IronKey USB stick. Because of the strong AES encryption and the military-grade tamper-resistant featues, IronKey has been approved by many countries for storing sensitive governmental and military material, in some cases up to the level of TOP SECRET. Within NATO, IronKey is approved for NATO Restricted and is strongly promoted for storing data and running operating systems [3].

IronKey is heavily used by governments, but it is also available to the general public, for example via auction sites like eBay. Although it is very secure, there is some level of software interaction with the computer, which means that it can only be used on supported operating systems.
 
  1. IronKey was developed by Imation (now: Glassbridge Enterprises Inc.). On 8 February 2016, the Imation's IronKey technology was acquired by Kingston Digital, the flash memory affiliate of Kingston Technology Company [1].
  2. CBC = Block Cipher Chaining.

IronK USB stick IronKey with protective cap removed IronKey ready for operation

 
Versions
  • Basic
  • Personal
  • Enterprise
History
Imation was founded in 1996, as a spin-out of the data storage division of the multinational 3M 1 conglomerate. It has its headquarters in Oakdale (Minnesota, USA). Starting with magnetic tape and then floppy discs, Imation made the move to hard disc drives, optical discs, and finally flash drives, solid state drives (SSD) and USB-based storage technology. In 2011, following a series of acquisitions of encryption technologies, Imation built the world's most secure flash drives, that were sold under the IronKey brand. It was the first USB stick to be approved for TOP SECRET data.

In February 2016, Kingston Digital announced that they had taken over the IronKey technology from Imation [1]. Kingston Digital is part of Kingston Technology Corporation. On 10 February 2017 it was announced that Imation had changed its name to GlassBridge Enterprises, Inc.
 
  1. Formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, 3M is now a multinational technology conglomerate corporation, based in Maplewood (Minnesota, USA).  Wikipedia

Interior
As the IronKey is physically protected against opening it, it will be very difficult to show the PCB that is housed inside the metal enclosure, without damaging the device. Although some people have attempted to do this, no one has so far been able to disassemble the device without loosing its data. For this reason we are showing here an old image that was used by Imation in 2010.


In the leftmost image, the PCB is clearly visible. The two chips at the lower half are the actual flash memory devices in which the sensitive data is stored. The small rectanglular chip at the upper half is the actual encryption unit that provides 256-bit AES encryption at all times. The encryption can not be turned off or bypassed. This chip also holds the physical USB interface.

The USB interface is implemented as a double USB device: (1) a Mass Storage Device that holds an unmounted drive, and (2) a Human Interface Device (HID) that is used for controlling the features, such as mounting the drive and entering the password. The reason that HID is used for this, is because support for it is readily available on most modern operating systems. As the HID-class has no native provisions for controlling secure media, it is controlled though the audio control buttons and LEDs (play, stop, next, etc.) of a virtual (audio) device.
 
Opening
In this clip, YouTube user davinci team shows us what is inside the IronKey enclosure. Removing the outer case shell, reveals a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) that is cast in epoxy. According to him, the epoxy was removed later with a Weller WQB2000 rework station, after which the PCB still worked fine. However, as he does not show any evidence of this, it is very likely to be a hoax.
 

 
Operating systems
The IronKey support the following operating systems:
 
  • Windows 2000 SP4
  • Windows XP
  • Windows Vista
  • Mac OS 10.4+
  • Linux 2.6+
Similar products
References
  1. Ironkey, Kingston Digital Acquires USB Technology and Assets of IronKey from Imation
    8 February 2016. Corporate press release.

  2. Imation, History
    Retrieved October 2016. 1

  3. NATO, IronKey™ Enterprise S250 and D250 Encrypted Flash Drives
    Retrieved November 2016.

  1. Website no longer available from February 2017 onwards, after Imation became Glassbridge Enterprises Inc. Last snapshot available via Wayback Machine.

Further information

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Crypto Museum. Created: Tuesday 21 February 2017. Last changed: Thursday, 09 March 2017 - 13:16 CET.
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