Dec 02 2008

Maxtor BlackArmor drive

Published by at 8:59 am under Encryption,Family

At the end of October I was invited to a dinner put on by Seagate in San Francisco at Shanghai 1930 (highly recommend, BTW), along with a few other bloggers and a number of press folks.  I got to talk to a number of the Seagate executives and ended up sitting next to Luther Martin, the Chief Architect at Voltage Security.  The conversation was very fluid, ranging from politics to various security topics to the then upcoming holiday season.  There was nothing revolutionary in the conversation, though one of the execs in charge of consumer electronics said he felt very good about the future, since storage and backup in the home have barely scratched the surface of the market.  Finally on the way out, they handed each of us a Maxtor BlackArmor 320Gb external hard drive

The Maxtor drive is very nice, sleek and small.  It comes with a fairly short USB cable, pretty standard for these drives, and has a bright blue LED on the front to indicate activity.  And when I say bright, I mean it; the drive light’s up my office late at night and I really wish it had a way to dim or turn off the light, but that’s a minor quible.  When I plugged in the drive and started the software installation, it asked for the Security ID code from the back of the drive and a password, then acted just like any other drive on my computer.  Except none of my other drives are encrypted using AES-128 and require their own password before they’ll allow access. 

I’ve been running an older Maxtor Shared Storage drive on my network for several years now and love it.  It sits on the shelf and every night my files and my wife’s files get backed up over the network and I feel a bit more secure.  About every 3-4 months I take the whole backup and copy it to a second external drive hooked to the MSS drive via UPS, and once a year I copy those backups to a second external drive.  I’ve had drives fail on me before and I’m not willing to take a chance that my data would be lost in case of a drive failure.  Yes, I’m paranoid, but I’m a security professional and I’m supposed to be paranoid. The MSS runs a small program called Maxtor Quick Start that ran at startup and backed up everything, or at least it did until I installed the latest version of Maxtor’s software, Maxtor Manager.

I like the new Maxtor Manager, it works seamlessly, it backs up everything I want it to at Midnight every day, and my test restores have worked well so far.  The one issue I have with it is that it disabled Maxtor Quick Start from starting automatically upon bootup and doesn’t recognize my Maxtor Shared Storage Drive.  I can still start Quick Start manually and do backups to the networked drive by hand, but it doesn’t give me quite the same feeling of security I had before.  It is slightly redundant, I admit, since the BlackArmor drive is backing up the same drives nightly, but I’ve already stated that I’m a paranoid who only feels safe when I’ve got multiple copies of my data on backup. 

Other than the minor issues around my network and the bright blue LED, I love the Maxtor Black Armor drive.  I’m seriously considering purchasing one for a family member who’s in need of an external drive, especially since they aren’t any more expensive than your average external drive ($108 on Amazon for a 320Gb version).  The added security of having the encryption on the drive might not matter to many home users, but for folks like me who regularly work on sensitive documents, it’s a huge blessing and let’s me sleep a little better at night.  My issues with the software won’t affect most users and the backup software is easy enough to use that my luddite of a brother could install it and run it without any help from me.  Which is good, since I don’t do tech support, even for family.

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “Maxtor BlackArmor drive”

  1. Mikeon 06 Dec 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Thanks for putting this up – I’ve been thinking of getting a backup for my home network going for a while but most of the products I see on the market end up leaving me in dismay, with a large amount of catch words and a small amount of actual hardware seen for the experience. This is definitely something for me to follow up on, and the fact it uses AES-128 to encrypt is fantastic… I’m one of those paranoids too who likes to have everything as secure as I can make it. (probably a good thing for someone hoping to work his way into network security one day) :-) On another note…stumbled across your site a few months ago, and keep blogging! It’s awesome!


  2. Garyon 24 Jan 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Does this drive need to install software on the host system in order to function?

    If so, it won’t work in the increasing number of business and government offices that limit software installs to those with a Windows Admin account.

    Unfortunately the packaging is ambiguous on that question, and so is the above review. Not to mention the Maxtor web site and the many other online reviews and news articles out there.

    I had a BlackArmor in my hand today but didn’t want to buy it and be the guinea pig.

  3. Mikeon 05 Feb 2009 at 7:19 pm

    This drive did not require the installation of any software that I can remember. It does have software on it to provide automatic backup and file syncing capabilities but this is optional. Additionally, I have seen several posts online that this drive will not function with Windows Server 2003, which I can say now is not true – I’ve already used it on Win2k3 machines and it works fine. With that said, I had a slight panic when on the way home I thought ‘Well this encryption is great, but what stops someone from just brute-forcing my pass phrase?’ Then I remembered….

    Every character I enter is one a printable ascii character, of which, with extended ASCII, there are about 224 options. So even with a modest, twenty character pass phrase there roughly

    one billion billion billion billion billion possibilities.

    Which, at 500 tries a second, would still take an average of over three years to crack.

    That said, I still wish it had an ‘erase after X successive failures’ feature, but I guess I can rest more easily (for now) in the math.

  4. Marioon 19 Feb 2009 at 11:57 am

    There are about 100 billion billion billion billion billion different ways of generating a 20-character password constructed from a 224 extended ASCII data set. This is equivalent to a password strength of 156 bits. Five hundred brute-force cracking attempts per second would take an average of over three billion billion billion billion years to crack the password.

  5. Jimon 09 Mar 2009 at 9:31 pm

    I just purchased the black armor drive and installed with little problem on my laptop. Move to my desktop without problem. However when I took it to work can not use it because I do not have administrator priveleges. Reading the Seagate forums I now find this is a known problem and there is nothing I can do except have the administrator install it on EVERY computer I want to use it on at work. Makes it pretty worthless at work which is where I needed it. Going to try some low level foatting tomorrow and see if I can remove the security partition so at least I can have another storage Sri e even if it isn’t secure

  6. Alanon 01 Apr 2009 at 12:27 am

    I am also in the same situation as Jim. The drive requires me to install the software to unlock it but I do not have administrative rights. Anybody have any luck removing the security features?

  7. colinon 01 Apr 2009 at 11:15 am

    Having an issue installing it on a linux based netbook. Love the drive and he was not lying about that light. But anyone know of a way to start the maxtor black armor manager manually in order to input the password?

  8. Martinon 01 Apr 2009 at 11:22 am

    I took a quick look at the Maxtor/Seagate site and it doesn’t appear that they have support of Mac/Linux OS’s, and may not be developing any. I’ll ping one of my contacts at Seagate and see if I can find out anything more.


  9. Kenon 13 Sep 2009 at 9:52 am

    I don’t understand someone buying a secure USB drive for use at work, and then report they can’t use it because they need the Admin to do a one-time install of security software. Either you need security at work, and the admin will do what is required, or you do not (and you bought the wrong product). The point of the security drive is to render it secure against someone else physically getting acces to the drive or the drive and your laptop… Why use a device that is ‘usually’ secure, but at work it is insecure?

  10. Peter Baughon 05 May 2015 at 1:57 pm

    This is a great product for home use, or your own business where you are the administrator. I have two for backing up my laptop. I never used it for another institution so can not comment. As for transfer rates, it is faster than my other “cheaper” 5400 rpm drives. Love the performance, and the security. I don not use Maxtore manager, I backup and sync with Richcopy from Microsoft Developers (it’s free just google it but read and configure it – change streams to ONE from original THREE..). Richcopy by default will not purge, just copy new files. Study carefully before making any changes to this program and have at least 2 clean backups before trying it.
    The Blackarmour drive does not seem to need any installed software to work, just set up the password with Maxtore manager, then remove the manager software. Works great for me. AND – you must keep the 2 backups in a separate location – one goes with the laptop, one stays hidden in a different location. Remember, if your laptop and backup drive are stolen, you just need the password, 2nd drive, and a new PC, and you have all your data back. The DATA is the important thing. :-)

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