Inexpensive alternatives to a secure flash drive

Dennis o'reilly By Dennis O’Reilly

You don’t need to spend $100 or more to ensure your safety while computing on the road.

The do-it-yourself approach to creating a secure flash drive for use on someone else’s PC can be just as effective — and much less expensive.

Scott Dunn’s Dec. 10 Top Story review of the IronKey secure flash drive touched on some less-costly options for safe computing outside the home or office. Trevor Valentine was one of several readers who expanded on the low-cost ways to achieve the same goal:
  • “For another alternative, I recommend the duo of TrueCrypt [more info] and PortableApps.com [more info]. TrueCrypt is a disk-encryption program that allows you several options, including encrypting your USB key or hard drive. PortableApps.com takes free, open-source software and configures it to run entirely from a USB device so that no traces are left behind on the desktop you’re using. Still not as secure as using a service like IronKey, but far more affordable since both are free!”

Scott described PortableApps and other programs that run off flash drives in the Oct. 18, 2007, Top Story. You’ll find additional detailed information about the benefits of portable software in Ian “Gizmo” Richards’ Best Software columns of June 18 and July 2 (paid content).

Some extended warranties are better than others

Scott Dunn’s Dec. 3 Insider Tricks column, “Beware of tech vendors’ dirty tricks” (paid content), discussed the pros and cons — mostly cons — of the extended warranties offered by vendors. Bob Primak points out a noteworthy exception to this general rule:
  • “The one exception to not getting an extended warranty is if — like me — you shop at a computer store whose service department you especially like. By buying, say, the Micro Center Extended Warranty, you are no longer dealing with the manufacturer, even during the initial warranty period.

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    “Instead, you get the services from the Micro Center Service Department. This is certainly not what I would do at Best Buy, but I trust the Micro Center and have dealt with their service department at my local store for years. I therefore would get their extended warranty — as I have done on my laptop and three external hard drives — just to be dealing with a service department I can talk to face to face.”
Finding a local PC repair operation you can trust is as valuable as discovering an honest and knowledgeable car mechanic in your neighborhood. Maybe this is a case of “think locally, act locally.”

Implied-warranty laws are consumer safety net

Depending on where you live, local laws may supersede the limited warranties offered by the product manufacturers themselves, as Marilyn Burgess explains:
  • “The state of Maine has an implied warranty that takes precedence over the manufacturer’s warranty. It states that an article sold in the state must be usable for the purpose intended for the length of time most such articles or appliances are useful, unless it has been damaged by the purchaser.

    “The general length of time is four years for most articles. The seller must make the arrangements for the buyer with the manufacturer for repair or replacement without cost to the buyer. I have found most sellers willingly comply once the buyer asks, but they won’t tell you about the law.

    “I don’t know if other states have such a law, but it’s always worth asking or reviewing consumer law online. I’m always surprised at how few people are aware of the law. Maine discourages the sale of inferior products in this way, and it covers everything but cars, which are covered under a different law.”
We also heard from subscribers in Australia and other places that protect consumers with similar implied warranties. Perhaps your local politicians could be persuaded to enact such legislation.

In the U.S., the Consumer Action Website provides a list of state, county, and city government consumer-protection offices. The information includes street and e-mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers, and links to the organizations’ Web sites.

Readers Trevor, Bob, and Marilyn will each receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of their choice for sending tips we printed. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

The Known Issues column brings you readers’ comments on our recent articles. Dennis O’Reilly is technical editor of WindowsSecrets.com.
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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2009-12-17: