Secure tamper-resistant flash drive
Ironkey™ is a secure tamper-resistant USB memory stick with built-in
developed between 2005 and 2007 by Dave Jevans and Gil Spencer of IronKey Inc.
and marketed from 2011 onwards by Imation 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
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 1 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.
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 .
IronKey is heavily used by governments, but it is also available to the
general public, for example via auction sites like
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
CBC = Block Cipher Chaining.
IronKey was originally developed and marketed by IronKey Inc.
(later: Marble Security Inc.), an independent venture-funded company,
established in 2005 by Dave Jevans and Gil Spencer.
In the preceeding years, the two men had become increasingly
concerned about potential threat vectors to corporate security, and had
noticed that the frequent loss by government officials of data stored on
USB sticks had become one of the greatest security risks.
In 2005, IronKey received a US$ 1.4 million grant from the Department of
Homeland Security for the development of a solution.
In December 2006, they managed to secure another
US$ 6 million from LeapFrog Ventures and individual investors .
The first IronKey devices were released in 2007, followed by
S200 models in 2009.
In October 2011, the IronKey technology was acquired by Imation,
the former storage division of the multinational 3M 1 conglomerate,
that had been separated-off in 1996.
The IronKey name was kept as trademark and the devices were the first
USB sticks to be approved for data storage up to TOP SECRET level.
In 2012, the former IronKey Inc. changed its name to Marble Security .
On 8 February 2016, Kingston Digital announced that they had taken over
the IronKey technology from Imation . 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.
Formerly known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, 3M is
now a multinational technology conglomerate corporation, based in Maplewood
(Minnesota, USA). ➤ Wikipedia
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 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.
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.
The IronKey support the following operating systems:
- Windows 2000 SP4
- Windows XP
- Windows Vista
- Mac OS 10.4
Website no longer available from February 2017 onwards, after Imation
became Glassbridge Enterprises Inc.
available via Wayback Machine.
Any links shown in red are currently unavailable.
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© Crypto Museum. Created: Tuesday 21 February 2017. Last changed: Saturday, 24 February 2018 - 11:54 CET.