Hands-On Review: G-Technology ArmorLock External SSD

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External, portable hard drives are often taken for granted. They’re something I’ve never considered much, beyond maybe thinking, “How small is it? What’s its capacity? Is it reliable?” But after getting to know the ArmorLock SSD from G-Technology, it’s making more sense to me how important it is to have a secure means for storing files.

The ArmorLock solves this security issue in an elegant and modern way: through the use of a dedicated app for your smartphone and Bluetooth connectivity. Ever becoming the all-in-one tool, your smartphone is key—literally and figuratively—to keeping this hard drive safe and running smoothly. Just like your phone, you’re able to use Face ID and Touch ID to unlock your hard drive for even greater security than just a typed-out password. This modern method of encryption keeps the drive feeling simultaneously secure and intuitive.

LED indicators show when the drive is locked (orange) versus unlocked (white).

The drive itself is a 2TB NVMe SSD, featuring 256-bit AES-XTS hardware encryption, along with impressive 1000 MB/s sustained read and write speeds. It has a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C interface and is compatible with macOS 10.12+ or Windows 10+ operating systems; however, the ArmorLock app itself requires macOS 10.13+ and iOS 13+ operating systems (with an Android app to be available soon). These specs make it the perfect drive for photographers and videographers or any other multimedia user who needs to move numerous files fast. The 1000 MB/s sustained speed is great for working off or on location, whether that be on a shoot or editing at a coffee shop, and it’s also perfect for quickly offloading cards and moving files around from a computer to other external RAID setups or more permanent storage solutions. Also, unlike some other SSDs that need to throttle data-transfer rates due to overheating, the sustained read/write speed remains constant even during long periods of use, due to the drive’s heat-dissipating design.

But let’s back up for a minute and talk more about who this drive is for, because that’s what separates it from being just a hard drive to being a secure drive perfect for the working creative. I’m a photographer and writer, and in the past have worked as commercial photographers’ and filmmakers’ assistants, a photography studio manager, and have shot some editorial jobs here and there over the years. On several of the jobs I was working, we were under tight embargoes about who or what was being photographed, whether it was a celebrity prior to the launch of an upcoming film or album or a product prior to its announcement. Working in a chaotic field like this saw me transiting across New York throughout the day, running from location to location or to fabrication studios or stores to pick up supplies, or even to deliver shots and footage from the location straight to off-site digital techs, editors, or production houses. Essentially carrying the entire job on a hard drive while taking a cab in a busy, overwhelming city, moving at a frantic pace, is a recipe for something to go wrong eventually. At best, you might drop a hard drive or lose it; at worst, your embargoed and sensitive content get into someone else’s hands. Whatever the specific situation is, the problem is not that you’re losing your hard drive itself, but that the content on it is now freely available to anyone who finds the drive.

More Secure Ways to Encrypt Data

Even if the above situation doesn’t pertain to you, I think it’s demonstrative of the type of application for which a drive like ArmorLock would come in handy. Maybe you’re working as a PA on the set of the newest HBO drama, editing for the upcoming Marvel movie, or designing a new ad campaign for a large brand; the security this drive provides will help to keep any job safe against loss or theft. The increased need for security is very real, regardless of whether it’s a professional gig or not, and this drive simplifies the process of having a highly secured but still very capable drive.

According to G-Technology, the company has created improved and more robust security by evolving trusted techniques, including 256-bit AES-XTS hardware encryption, and has developed more secure ways of encrypting data when pairing with your smartphone. It created breakthrough key management to eliminate side-channel attacks by reengineering the elliptical curve encryption algorithm based on NIST P-256 ECC standards. These designs will also be open source to give more transparency to the encryption methods.

Screenshots from the ArmorLock app showing intuitive Lock Screen and menu options.

In more practical terms, though, these encryption methods have been updated and rewritten to maintain the speed and accessibility of a regular “unlocked” drive. A byproduct is that working with this security becomes a much more intuitive process. No technical know-how is required for using this encrypted drive, and the encryption does not slow down the drive’s performance—which is another reason this drive is perfect for the working creative. When I received the drive, I opened the box and flipped through the included literature, but didn’t do a deep dive into it. I wanted to see if I could figure this out on my own, since the only guidance I was given was that the drive required an app for use. So, I found the ArmorLock app in the App Store, downloaded it, connected the drive to my computer, and followed the Bluetooth pairing process—it was impressively simple for something I felt might be a bit over my head, since I’ve never used an encrypted drive before.

When you first launch the app/pair a drive, you’re required to format the drive (presumably for security reasons) and then it will pair with your phone. The drive will now show up in the app and you have the ability to “unlock” the drive from your phone; the drive will automatically “lock” whenever it’s disconnected from a computer. One of the consequences of this is that the drive won’t connect to your computer when plugged in; you must unlock the drive from your phone for it to show up on your computer and be accessible. The app itself is very straightforward and doesn’t require any additional passwords or authentication for use since it assumes you’re the one who unlocked your phone in the first place, using either a passcode or some biometric access method (although you can add the need to enter a password or use biometric recognition again, if preferred, or hosting the drive from a shared device).

Track the Drive's Last Known Location

Even with all of the focus on making sure only you can access your drive, G-Technology has also made sure this same security is made available to other authorized users. Say, for example, you want to back up your files from a shoot, and then give that drive to a digital tech who will eventually mail the drive to an art director or producer in another city; you now have two other people who need access to this private drive. No problem. As manager of the drive, you’re able to authorize other users and even other managers so everyone can have the appropriate amount of access to the ArmorLock. You can configure access so users just have read access while managers have read and write access, too. This control can also be used to control multiple ArmorLock drives for higher-volume use, or if you just like staying organized by keeping each project on its own drive. Within the app, you can name and color-code each drive, as well as configure permissions per drive, so some users can access one drive but not another.

Beyond user permissions, the app and security workflow also have a side benefit of letting you track the last known location of the drive. Each time you use your drive, and subsequently use your phone to unlock it, the geotag is attached to the app as the physical location of the drive. Then, if you accidentally leave your drive at a studio or other location, you’ll be able to open the app and locate where the drive was last used. Note, though, that this isn’t the same as being able to track the moving location of the drive (in case of theft, you wouldn’t be able to find where the drive was taken to), and it’s also worth mentioning that this information isn’t shared with G-Technology or anyone else. Additionally, speaking of theft, if the drive were to end up in the wrong hands, they wouldn’t be able to access any of the content on it. Sure, they’d have a fancy new drive, but to use it they would have to format the drive completely, ensuring your files remain safe. In fact, others won’t even be able to tell if there is any content on the drive since it won’t connect to a computer without authorization or formatting.

The ArmorLock SSD is a portable, durable, and encrypted external hard drive.

Finally, aside from security and protection of content, the drive is also physically protected against drops, impacts, and water. It has a sleek aluminum housing that is crush resistant to up to 1000 lb of force and shockproof from falls up to 9.8' high. It’s IP67 rated, too, for some water and dust resistance. Beyond durability, the aluminum design also promotes greater heat dissipation for maintaining the high transfer speeds for moving files quickly.

So, after some time working with this drive, I determined it really works exactly the way it should. I didn’t have any big jobs or in-person shoots to bring it on, but just taking the drive with my laptop outside for work was as seamless an experience as with another drive, except with the added peace of mind of having such robust security. I’m looking forward to making use of the multiple user configurations in the future for collaborative jobs, and I think the sophisticated ArmorLock platform will really excel when multiple drives and multiple users are in the mix.

What are your thoughts on the ArmorLock NVMe SSD? Is this level of encryption and security something you could use? Do you like the idea of having your smartphone control your access to your hard drive? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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