Safe From Prying Eyes
The encryption and biometric safeguards on these security-first drives offer some peace of mind when you need to carry sensitive data on an easy-to-misplace thumb drive.
Built-in tools on drives like the Lexar JumpDrive Secure II 1GB ($100) and the Kingston DataTraveler Elite 1GB ($100) let you defend individual files with 256-bit AES encryption. You can also create a partition on the drive that encrypts any file dropped into it and that appears on screen under a different drive letter. And you can password-protect any U3 drive to achieve a base level of protection.
When security really matters, check out a thumb drive with a built-in fingerprint scanner. It works much like any biometric device, locking out access until you swipe the appropriate digit against it.
We looked at two models, the SanDisk Cruzer Profile 256MB (click on thumbnail image above; $100) and the Sony MicroVault with Fingerprint Access 256MB ($90). We slightly preferred the SanDisk because the Sony requires an extra cable and software installation.
A bootable Linux thumb drive allows you to tinker with the popular open-source operating system without having to risk modifying your hard drive.
The easiest option is to buy a drive with Linux already installed. The most established version is Damn Small Linux, which comes preinstalled on a 256MB drive for $60. If you want to try installing the OS yourself, download Damn Small Linux from the same Web site, or check out Puppy Linux. Both OS versions include a bevy of productivity applications--and both, of course, are free.