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IoSafe unveils Thunderbolt drive with lightning and a hidden message

IoSafe unveiled its Rugged Portable Thunderbolt disaster-proof hard drive with actual lightning and a little trick to show how vulnerable data can be.

Dong Ngo SF Labs Manager, Editor / Reviews
CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews 3D printers, networking/storage devices, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.
Dong Ngo
4 min read
The IoSafe Rugged Portable Thunderbolt being zapped by a million-watt Tesla coil. But that's not the real message.
The IoSafe Rugged Portable Thunderbolt being zapped by a million-watt Tesla coil. But that's not the real message. Dong Ngo/CNET

LAS VEGAS--If you don't know what a Thunderbolt drive is, and most importantly, how vulnerable your data can be, IoSafe wants to sear that in your mind.

Following its tradition of the last three CES shows, (and as I predicted prior to CES 2012), the maker of disaster-proof hard drives pulled off a spectacular show this year to unveil its Rugged Portable Thunderbolt drive. This time the demo came with a little twist.

The new drive itself is very similar to the previous USB 3.0 Rugged Portable that was introduced at last year's demo--and shot with shotguns. However, it now comes with two Thunderbolt ports and the option to host one internal 2.5-inch regular hard drive or two solid-state drives (SSDs), while retaining the same physical compact design. The SSD version of the new drive can be used in either RAID 1 or RAID 0 setup for maximum data safety or maximum capacity and performance, respectively.

Since the new Thunderbolt drive comes with exactly the same disaster-proof design as the previous model (basically indestructible and susceptible to only extreme heat), IoSafe this year decided to use a Tesla coil to unveil it with some lightning bolts.

The demo took place in a large warehouse. The setup included two large cages of different sizes, made of conducting material. Inside the large cage was a 1-million-watt Tesla coil capable of generating artificial lightning bolts reaching 15 feet or more. The other cage was to house the spectators to supposedly keep them from being electrocuted or affected by the EMP. As in previous years, Robb Moore, CEO of IoSafe, took part in the demo himself, with the help of Austin Richards (aka, Dr. Megavolt) who wore a full-body Faraday suit (a suit that's made of conducting material) and operated the Tesla coil.

IoSafe Thunderbolt demo (photos)

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Similar to previous demos, a Rugged Portable Thunderbolt drive was first loaded with a few data files. After that, it was put near the Tesla coil to be struck by lightning (which was strong enough to instantly ignite wood) for a few minutes. And then, you guessed it, the drive was connected back to a Thunderbolt-enabled MacBook, and voila, the data would still be there. So predictable, I know!

But before we get to the next part, let's get one thing straight. Since the drive's casing is made out of solid metal and the person who held it to the Tesla coil was wearing a Faraday suit, all the electricity was grounded immediately, leaving the drive virtually intact, despite all the flashy effects. By the end of the lightning-zapping time, which was intended to be the main part of the demo, I felt something was amiss. The last couple of years, IoSafe's demos have included some real torturing of its drives. Comparatively, this was just a mild scratch.

And the mystery was solved with Robb's next trick, which was completely unexpected and the best part of the demo.

Prior to the event, he had asked all of us--the invited members of the press--to put our beloved computers and other electronics (except for cameras) into a large antistatic bag for "safety purposes." This bag was put on a table and grounded to the floor with two large wires. When the part with the Tesla coil was done and right before Moore was about to hook the Thunderbolt drive back to the MacBook, he, with finesse, "accidentally" tripped on the wires and pulled the entire bag into a large basin full of water that just happened to be nearby (which I originally thought would be used to test the drive against water submersion). Half of the bag sank almost instantly, causing at least one journalist to scream, "Oh my God! My work laptop! All of my work!" and everyone else to feel very uneasy, to say the least.

Leaving the crowd a few long seconds for the uneasiness to grow and sink in, Moore then showed us another identical bag, hidden in a corner, and said "Well, we have the backup, guys!" As it turned out, the original bag, which housed our precious tools, was swapped out with an identical bag when we were busy watching the Tesla coil. The whole fancy show was just a diversion for Moore's last trick to show us how vulnerable our data could be. And that's the gist of the demo. And yes, the drive was later indeed plugged in and the data was found intact.

The Rugged Portable Thunderbolt used for the demo.
The Rugged Portable Thunderbolt used for the demo. Dong Ngo/CNET

It's not fun to be tricked, but Moore did offer the spectators to experience, for a few moments, the real pain of losing data and the great relief to know that all is not lost.

"The Tesla coil is just for show; hope everybody enjoyed it," Moore said at the end. "Saving data can be a beautiful thing."

The Rugged Portable Thunderbolt is slated to be available in the second quarter of 2012, with the 500GB hard-drive-based version costing some $500. The pricing of the SSD version will be announced when the product becomes available, and my guess is it won't be cheap. The price, however, includes IoSafe's one-year data recovery plan that covers up to $5,000 worth of damage.

While IoSafe didn't announce anything at the beginning of CES 2012, making my job a little harder, its timing of the demo toward the end of the show helps end it with a bang. (For details of the demo, check out the included slideshow and the raw video of the zapping part.)

By the way, whether you think you're going to need (or can afford) an IoSafe external drive, make sure you back up your important data today.