Biometric access is a natural fit for an external hard drive, which is probably the easiest type of storage to steal unless it's physically locked down. This desktop SAFE drive from LaCie is a biometric drive that will give up to five users fingerprint access to its data. LaCie has mobile and desktop versions of this drive in several versions, ranging from 40GB to 500GB (the latter of which is this one, priced at £181).

To set it up, we connected the drive to a MacBook Pro. The software loads from the drive, you agree to a terms of use contract and a panel opens with two hands showing. You choose the two fingers you want to use as a key, and the software asks you to slowly swipe each finger three times in order to get one accurate reading. All this takes a few minutes. From then on the drive is unlocked until you restart, at which point you'll need to swipe again.

We did this a few times and it works well; a colleague couldn't unlock it with their fingers, and the wrong fingers on the hands of approved people didn't work - only the agreed fingers gave you access. Then we zeroed the drive, removing all users and effectively taking it back to its original out-of-the-box status.

When we set it up again from scratch on a PowerBook, it wouldn't let us. It remembers the first machine it is docked with, and only allows new users to be registered on that first Mac - in our case the MacBook Pro. It treats the first machine it works with as the administrator, which seems sensible to us.

Finger loss

You might well ask what's stopping someone from breaking the drive open and adding a new connection, or just chopping your finger off to use as ID? Well, there's not much LaCie can do about the latter, but the firm has built in two more layers of protection.

First, there are no screws, so you'd need to break the chassis, and if you do that a firmware drive lock kicks in to stop it working on other machines. You also have a chainlock connection, so you can link the drive to a heavy object with the right lock and cable (not included). Neither method is impenetrable, and LaCie says that if you get locked out of the drive, send it back and they will access it. So, clearly a method exists.

Two things we would like to see are data encryption and a tracking device. LaCie offers a mobile version of the drive that has encryption protection, so why not here? And a software tracker that appears on any machine the drive is connected to after being lifted would help.

As a hard drive it's not particularly fast, as there's only one USB port and no FireWire connection. But speed isn't the selling point here, security is, and it certainly offers a few extra layers of that over normal drives. James Ellerbeck