iTwin’s a Winner
This post is the last in the series of reviews on the cool tech stuff I came across at the beginning of February at LegalTech 2012 NY. Today’s review is on the iTwin, a fantastic and ingenious way to access files remotely and securely.
Today, there are many services that promote our being able to access our files from anywhere. Most involve placing the specific documents we want to share or access while we’re away from the office on the cloud. The upside is that it’s very convenient. The downside is that there’s a risk your files and documents can get hacked. The two most popular cloud file storage solutions are Google Docs and Dropbox. Both are password protected, neither are fully secure. Last year Dropbox announced that they would provide the government with its user’s decrypted files if asked.1 And in June 2011, a code update accidentally removed password authentication for a few hours on Dropbox.2
So, how do we access our files remotely and securely? Enter iTwin. Though not a free software solution like Google Docs or Dropbox (remember, you get what you pay for!) for the retail price of $99 it does offer a very secure and very simple way to share files without the worry of putting confidential files at risk. The number and size of files is limited only by the size your computer’s hard drive.
iTwin reminds me of Hugh Lofting’s Pushmi-pullyu from Doctor Dolittle. It’s two identical USB keys that are mated. On one side of each key there’s a USB connector and on the other they each have a connection that lets the two keys plug into each other. The keys (twins!), when mated, create a unique address that allows them to communicate only with each other across the Internet.
Here’s how it works. You plug the coupled keys (let’s call them, iTwin “A-B”) into a free USB port on your home or office computer. The installation software should autorun (it comes preloaded on each key). Once the installation is complete (1-3 minutes depending on your computer and your internet connection speed) you then designate which files or folders you want to make available to the remote computer.
When finished with the installation process, simply uncouple the iTwins, (leaving iTwin “A” plugged in), take iTwin “B” and plug it your laptop or other remote computer. iTwin “B”‘s software must likewise be installed on the remote computer. When finished all designated files/folders are fully accessible. Both computers must be on and connected to the Internet in order for the iTwin system to work.
One of the chief complaints of earlier reviews was that only two users were supported at a time. iTwin has addressed this shortcoming and introduced the iTwin Multi. The multi version allows sharing files with an entire team who can each remotely view, edit, and upload files to the shared folder so that each member can have access up-to-date information. It also includes two levels of file permissions to ensure the integrity of the files and the direction of information flow using a file properties feature.
No data is stored on the USB keys so no worries about anyone accessing your files if the key is lost or stolen. Since the setup process gives you the option of creating a disable code, you use the code to remotely disable a lost or missing iTwin half. You can then buy a replacement for the lost key for $50.
The iTwin generates a shared random 256-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) key each time it’s paired with its mate and plugged into a computer. The data traffic between the two halves is encrypted and you can set your own password.
If file transfer between the iTwin “A” and iTwin “B” is blocked by proxies, firewalls or Network Address Translators, the iTwins will do an end run by using Amazon’s EC2-based servers instead to relay the encrypted data traffic. And since the iTwin doesn’t buffer files, if a file can’t be transferred it will remain where it is until the transfer can be accomplished.
It took me no time at all to plug in the iTwin and to install it. Installation on my “remote” laptop was another matter. Because the software didn’t auto install, I wasn’t sure whether my iTwin “B” was supposed to somehow auto-detect iTwin “A” that was plugged into my primary computer, or if I was supposed to install the software on the second computer as well. I checked the on-line manual. Nada. The only mention of software installation was with regard to setting up of the connected iTwin on the primary computer. Nor does iTwin have an online forum for posting Q&As or a 24 hour help desk. The only tech support is via email. My email was promptly responded to with robot return email saying someone would be back to me within 24 hours. This was last Friday morning. I heard back Saturday afternoon. (Not a tragedy for me, but it could be for someone with a real business emergency.) I learned that the software needs to go through an installation on both the primary and the remote computers. So, I went into Total Commander (it’s like Explorer on steroids) on my laptop, found the install program on the iTwin, and ran it. Within a couple of minutes installation was complete and the remote laptop could see all of the files I needed on my office computer. In a lot of ways it reminded me of Dropbox. There was an iTwin icon that appeared in my taskbar and when I right-clicked on it, it gave me the option of viewing the files on my local computer, or the files on the remote machine.
It works so well that the Singapore based company has sold the iTwin fobs to Italy’s Supreme Court which is employing the devices for its magistrates so that they can access and manage court documents remotely.3 Popular Science Magazine gave it a “Best of What’s New” award for 2011. After trying it out for a week, I’m with PopSci.
Windows and Mac OS X compatable.
A review device was provided to the author for testing purposes. No other consideration was accepted for this review. The opinions expressed herein are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of NYSALJA.
1Wired.com, “Dropbox Fires Back Against Allegations It Misled Users,” May 18, 2011.
2 Secure Business Intelligence Magazine, “Dropbox admits login failure, as users were able to access accounts without a password,” June 22, 2011, and Geek.com, “Dropbox left all accounts unlocked and open for four hours,” June 21, 2011
3Multimedia Digital World, “La chiavetta iTwin supera i test di sicurezza della Corte Suprema di Cassazione”, December 12, 2011