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Lenovo ThinkPad Portable Secure Hard Drive review



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Lenovo ThinkPad Portable Secure Hard Drive


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There was a time when a portable external hard drive was an expensive luxury, but over the past couple of years these devices have become somewhat commodity items. The ability to carry hundreds of gigabytes of data around with you in a small, pocket-size device is compelling, but it also brings with it a potential issue - data security. Let's face it, if you've got a portable hard disk stuffed with sensitive data, the worry of losing it, or having it stolen is very real, and potentially scary.

Lenovo is a company that has always taken data security seriously, which is why its ThinkPads have been the notebooks of choice for the corporate market for a very long time. ThinkPad notebooks have included features like biometric security and encrypted hard drive data for quite a while now, since for many, the data on a notebook is far more valuable than the hardware itself. Now Lenovo has turned its security conscious attention to portable hard drives, for those who wish to carry important data with them, but don't want that data falling into the wrong hands.

The ThinkPad USB Secure Hard Drive (SHD) is, as its name suggests, a secure hard drive that connects to your computer via USB. This drive isn't much larger or heavier than most other portable USB hard drives, but you can instantly tell that it's a little special. Set into the front of the ThinkPad SHD is a numeric keypad, which is the key (no pun intended) to its security credentials. Basically, this external hard disk can be secured with a numeric code - the code must have a minimum of six digits and a maximum of 16 - Lenovo's website claims a 24 digit maximum but the manual states 16, and I couldn't get the device to accept a pass code with more than 16 digits.

Of course having a code to access the drive is only half of the equation, since if you wanted to steal the data, the obvious solution would be to just crack the casing open and access the hard disk directly. This scenario hasn't escaped Lenovo, and not only is the data on the drive password protected, it's also encrypted. The ThinkPad SHD uses 128-bit AES encryption, so it should be more than adequate for most situations, unless you happen to work for MI6, and then you'll keep your data unencrypted on your notebook and probably leave it on a train.

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March 2, 2009, 2:42 pm

Looks like a quality piece of kit but I can't help thinking the profit margin might be less if I was able to supply my own hard disk.

Would be nice to know what alternatives there are in this area. I noticed that Icy Box make an AES 128bit encrypted 2.5" SATA enclosure that uses an RFID fob as the key (model IB-220RFID-WH) but can't find any detailed reviews.


March 2, 2009, 8:26 pm

"unless you happen to work for MI6, and then you'll keep your data unencrypted on your notebook and probably leave it on a train."

So TR have deciphered the Quantum Of Solace what else do they know? Spooky.

Brian ONeill

March 2, 2009, 8:51 pm

Is there no easy way to put a password on an external hard drive? Or is there any software you can recommend? I do not need military grade encrypting, just basic security incase i ever lose it. I remember checking this a while ago and i did not just many options, so would be keen to hear any suggestions.


March 2, 2009, 10:14 pm

@Brian ONeill - Military grade encryption needs to be minimum 256-bit AES I think :) As for passwording external drives, it's definitely possible. SwissBit always used to have a SecureLock app on its memory keys that allowed you to password areas, as did Kingston on some devices. I've not come across any third party apps though, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.


March 3, 2009, 3:05 am

True crypt is a great free alternative that i would recommend anyone worried about security should check out. Rob


March 7, 2009, 1:54 pm

I bought this to back up files from my main system (iMac) and use on my XP netbook when travelling abroad. However, the drive will not allow me to write files from the Mac, although I can read files when connected to the Mac. It reads and writes when connected to an XP. This has defeated the purpose I purchased it for.I cannot see anywhere reference to a Windows only environment for full useability. Any ideas?


March 11, 2009, 4:54 pm

Following my grouch above regarding Mac read-only problem, I found one article that suggests a solution - reformatting the unit as FAT32 and reloading the security software - something I'm not sure I want to risk without a little more detail (e.g. I cannot even "see" the security software files on the disk, let alone copy them).


The unit works so nicely in a Windows only environment, and for some being read-only by a Mac is sufficient. But for a Mac user, this falls short


March 16, 2009, 12:35 am

Given that I am not a hard core geek, it took me 3.5 hrs to set three passwords - it is a very cumbersome process. Then, a reference is made to some backup software, but I found none and couldn't tell what to do. I called IBM/Lenovo technical support and they refused to talk with me because, although this is a new device and I had the serial number, part number etc, and the warranty says free phone support for X # of dys, IBM/Lenovo did not have a product registered by me. IBM/Lenovo (two calls totally 1.5 hrx) also said one cannot register the product online nor over the telephone. I resent having my time wasted so I packed up the device and am waiting to get rma authorization. These drives should be plug and play.


March 20, 2009, 4:43 pm


Obviously I'm no fan of this drive because it will not work in a Mac environment, but i found on an XP it was easy to use and did what it says it will. It took me minutes to set up user passwords (not an intuitive process so you have to follow the manual carefully), so I cannot agree with kaj about this.

John Stevens

August 3, 2010, 4:18 am

I purchased a similar product from Istorage, its called the Diskgenie - a great little prooduct with more secure 256 bit hardware encryption (Lenovo has 128 bit). It looks better than the Lenovo as well and works like a dream. I got through to Istorage tech support in less than a minute and they confirmed that the Diskgenie will work with both PCs and MACs if formatted as FAT32. You guys should take a look at their product www.istorage-uk.com

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