Small, portable hard disks and flash-memory storage devices are getting cheaper all the time, so there are now many people routinely using them as a quick way of backing up files or transferring files from one computer to another.

The size of these little storage devices makes them convenient to carry around, but it also means that it's easy to lose them - or to have them stolen. Portable Vault is designed to protect important files that you may store on a portable drive so that they can't be viewed or copied by anyone else.

When you insert the Portable Vault CD-ROM it automatically runs its installer program, which starts by telling you to connect your portable drive to your PC and to select it from a list of available drives. Unfortunately, we hit an annoying bug here.

The laptop PC we used to test Portable Vault had a widescreen display, and Portable Vault's dialog box didn't display the name of our Iomega portable hard disk properly on this display. As a result, we had to use the 'select most likely' option provided by the installer and just hope that it selected the correct drive. This did work, but it's still a sloppy bug and needs to be fixed.

Once we got past that glitch the program worked very well. It creates a 'vault' - a protected area - on your portable drive, to which you can add files or folders just by dragging and dropping them with the mouse.

Any files you put into the vault are both encrypted and password-protected so that only you can gain access to those files. The vault grows in size to accommodate any files that you add to it, but any remaining drive space can still be used to store unprotected files as well.

Hardened hackers might be able to crack the program's protection, but we weren't able to get round it ourselves - even when we connected our Iomega drive to a Mac, in the hope that it would ignore the Windows-based 'vault.exe' file that protected the drive. At just £10, Portable Vault provides an effective and affordable security option for your removable drives - they just need to sort out that bug first. CJ