Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Using E2B with the Netac U618 Encrypted USB 2.0 Flash drive

The Netac U618 is similar to the iStorage datAshur USB flash drives in that it has a PIN keypad and stores it's data in an encrypted form.

I believe the 16GB version is split as 4GB Public + 10GB Secure, however, I tested the 32GB version. You can obtain them from Amazon or eBay (approx $30 or £23 for the 32GB version).


When connected to a PC and when unlocked with the correct PIN code, the 32GB U618 appears to an OS as two separate drives (i.e. not partitions but actual 'physical' drives). This means you can repartition, re-format, install or re-install E2B to the encrypted 'secure' drive and the 'public' drive will not be erased or reformatted.

4GB      FAT32 (volume name = PUBLIC)  - no PIN code needed - always present
25.5GB FAT32 (volume name = SECURITY) - PIN code needed

These 4+25GB 'drives' each gave similar performances of 14-16MB/s sequential read and 9.4MB/s sequential write. These speeds were not the fastest USB 2.0 drive speeds I have ever seen, taking 74 seconds to write a 654MB file (=8.8MB/s).

Note: The device is 1 inch wide and so may not fit into a PC which has recessed USB ports. You may need to carry a USB extension cable too.

Both 'devices' were listed as Removable flash drives by RMPrepUSB:


The default PIN code is set to 112233. The keypad has five numbered key pads + the bottom unlock key, each key has a 'rocker' action, thus giving the required 0-9 numbers. Personally, I would prefer ten separate keys, but people with fat fingers may find this type of key pad easier to use. Only the right-hand side of the bottom key (the KEY symbol key) was operable, the other side contained a blue LED under the circle icon.

The red and green LEDs were situated above the keypad.
The bottom circle icon lit up blue when charging and flashed during accesses.


The device does have two holes for threading a string or small keyring through (not provided), however when I tried this, the string just pulled out because one side was a plastic panel and the string just pulled through the gap! The same thing happened with a small diameter keyring too! You could try securing it with a drop of cyano-acrylate (super) glue before you attach a string/keyring. I also had to file the sharp corners of the case because it was hurting my delicate digits every time I pulled it out of a USB port!

This gap was not glued and therefore pretty useless!

The default key sequence to unlock the secured drive portion is:

  • Press KEY button > red and green LEDs flash (10 second timeout)
  • Press 1 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 3 - 3
  • Press KEY button > green LED flashes (timeout 30 seconds)
  • Now connect to a PC and allow it to access the device > solid green LED

Booting from the SECURE drive with E2B

The first thing I noticed was that, rather annoyingly, both 'devices' were listed in the BIOS boot menu as 'USB: Netac' - so it was impossible to tell which was the 'PUBLIC' device and which was the 'SECURE' device! It turned out that the 2nd device was the 'SECURE' device (at least, on the EeePC it was).

The second thing I should mention, is that the U618 was detected on all the USB ports of my EeePC (unlike the datAshur Personal which needed 'tweaking' before it would connect properly).

Windows 10 Install ISO on EeePC

Booting to a Win10 32-bit ISO reset the U618. Unlike the datAshur Pro, I had to unplug the U618 in order to re-enter the PIN number (I could not enter the PIN number whilst it was still connected to the device as it would not respond to any key). There was plenty of time to do this however and so I was able to continue with the install.

It was a similar story with a Windows 8.1 Install ISO.

Kaspersky Rescue ISO on EeePC

As with the datAshur Pro, booting from the KAV Rescue ISO reset the U618 also at a very early boot stage. However, it was no problem to unplug the U618, re-enter the PIN code and then re-connect it again. KAV then continued booting.

Summary

It is early days yet, but the U618 does seem to be a slower, but much cheaper substitute for the datAshur Pro.

The twin-device public/secure function could be useful for some people but for others, you just lose 4GB of secure space. AFAIK there is no way to reprogram this. You could install E2B to both devices if you wish.

Note that, unlike the datAshur drives, it did not have a read-only mode, but as E2B needs writeable media, that may not be important to you.

If you are looking for a cheaper, secure, bootable USB flash drive then this might fit the bill. If however, you intend to update the drive often and/or use large files, you may find the slow write speed begins to annoy you and you may wish you had forked out for a datAshur Pro!