Addonics CipherChain Hard Drive Encryption

by Rob Williams on December 9, 2009 in Security, Storage

We took a look last week at a thumb drive that offered unparalleled data security, and this time around, we’re taking a look at a similar product, but one that’s designed for PC use, whether in the office or at home. The CipherChain, from Addonics, is easy-to-install and operate, and secures your data using the ultra-secure AES 256-bit cipher.


In last week’s look at Kingston’s DataTraveler Locker+ thumb drive, I stressed the importance of keeping personal data safe. There are a multitude of reasons why you should take this seriously, but the most important is security. No one, and I mean no one, other than yourself or a loved one should have access to your personal data, and for that reason, keeping your data safe deserves some attention.

I’d imagine that most of our regular readers are adept at using a PC, and probably understand the benefits of keeping data safe, and the downsides of the opposite, but for the layman PC user, also known as the vast majority, keeping personal data safe isn’t much of a concern at all. It takes only a few minutes of looking through a Facebook or MySpace profile to know what I mean.

It’s for reasons like this that those of us who do understand the major risks involved with being careless with our information should share the knowledge with others, especially our families and friends. It’s unfortunate that so many don’t take data security seriously, or realize the harm that not doing so could have.

That’s one reason I liked Kingston’s DT Locker+ so much. The company designed the product in such a way that if a malicious person ever found it (and let’s be honest, losing a thumb drive would not be difficult), they’d never, ever be able to access the data. What made it even better was the ease of use. All it required of you was a password each time you wanted to use the drive. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

There are a couple of other reasons why I liked Kingston’s product so much, and the same reasons apply to Addonics’ CipherChain to a T. First, the root of the device’s security is a hardware-based solution. This means that the process of encrypting your data, and the algorithm itself, is located on a chip, not in software. Not only does this make the device even harder to crack (as in hack, not literally), it would be faster as a result.

The product we looked at last week is a great solution for those who are mobile, but what about the important data at home, or in an office? There are an incredible number of similar solutions out there for hard drive encryption, software and hardware, but Addonics is by far one of the easiest, and even if you barely know your way around the inside of a PC, you should be able to install this without issue.

As seen in the official image above, and our photographs below, the CiperChain is one small product. It measures at just 41mm x 48.5mm x 8mm, so for all intents and purposes, it can be fit almost anywhere. One solution is seen below, where two CiperChains are placed side-by-side on a platform designed to be used in one of the PCI slots found at the back of your PC.

Two more solutions are seen below. One mount is designed for a slim-line CD bay, while the other pops into a floppy drive bay (finally, a good use for one of those things!). These aren’t the only options, so you can be sure that fitting one into your PC will be no issue at all. For those who will be turning their machines off often, keeping the CipherChain in a front bay is probably the best idea, as getting in behind the machine to plug the required key in is not going to be too much fun after awhile.

Below is an even closer look at the CipherChain, and for the most part, they feature a rather straight-forward design. Please note that most implementations, especially at the consumer level, would include a single CipherChain, not two, but Addonics sent me the higher-end version to show off its daisy chaining capabilities (see, it’s called “Chain” for a reason!). That’s right, if you aren’t content with protecting your data with a 256-bit AES encryption cipher, then you can add two for encryption of the encryption. No joke. Addonics states that there’s no theoretical limit to the number of CiperChains you can use on a single drive.

The blue-colored S-ATA port is what’s to connect to your motherboard or add-in card via a S-ATA cable, while the black-colored one connects the CipherChain directly to your hard drive or SSD. As you’d expect, the device requires power to operate, and for that, a 4-pin floppy-type power connector must be plugged in – one for each CipherChain.

You might have noticed the “Reset” buttons in an above screenshot, and the black little tab towards the left of the CiperChain in the above shot is what enables are disables the use of this. If enabled, you can take advantage of hot-swapping hard drives, if your computer and power supply support it (most don’t). To do this, you’d simply hit the reset switch, which powers the CipherChain off, plug in the new drive, and then hit the reset switch again to re-initialize it.

All of the packaged solutions Addonics sells includes the three accessories seen below. There’s of course a single-drive S-ATA cable, 4-Pin Molex to 4-Pin Floppy power adapter, and also the two mini-USB “keys”… it’s what you plug into a CipherChain in order to utilize the device, and access your data. These two keys come straight from Addonics with unique keys built-in, and you are unable to change them unless you have the special product used to either create or duplicate these keys (it’s $999, so it’s not for everyone).

In the case of our particular sample, where two CipherChains are included, you’ll receive a total of four keys, each set with different codes. If you’re to take advantage of both CipherChains on a single drive, that means that one key from each set must be plugged into the respective device in order to access the data. If only one is plugged in, the drive won’t even be recognizable by the PC. Needless to say, it’s extremely important that one key from each set be stored in a safe place, because if you lose both, the data on that hard drive is gone, with no chance of recovery. That’s right… none.

Let’s move onto the installation, performance testing, and then my final thoughts.

Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an 'Advocate of the consumer', focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

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