IronKey has launched a web-based security service that will allow IT administrators to wipe out or lock stolen USB drives.

Silver Bullet will be offered as a subscription add-on to IronKey's USB device management software, said David Jevans, IronKey's CEO.

An IronKey USB stick uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to securely store data, which is used by the US government for sensitive material. Nonetheless, some customers have requested more features in order to destroy data, Jevans said.

The IronKey is unlocked when a user enters their password, but some users will write down their password and keep it, for example, in their briefcase along with their IronKey, Jevans said. The practice undermines the device's security, but it's an example of the risk that users pose to data security.

To counter that situation, the Silver Bullet service will let administrators send a command to the IronKey when it's inserted into a PC that is connected to the internet that tells its flash memory hardware controller to wipe the data.

Alternatively, Silver Bullet will also let administrators simply lock the data on an IronKey. If an employee loses an IronKey but later finds it, the device can be unlocked, Jevans said. Another scenario where the lock feature is useful is if a company believes one of its employees is carrying objectionable material and wants to preserve the data for analysis.

Silver Bullet can also transmit to a central administration console the IP address of a computer in which an IronKey is being used. IronKey is also working on other tracking-related features which could be rolled out by the end of year.

IronKey eventually wants to enable its devices to report a computer's Media Access Control (MAC) address, a unique number linked to a PC's hardware. By collecting a PC's MAC and IP addresses, other administrative controls can be introduced, Jevans said.

For example, IronKeys could be configured to only work on specific types of PCs, such as those designated to handle top-secret information, Jevans said. The company is also working on an administrator feature that would show a map indicating where an organisation's IronKeys are being used in the world.

Silver Bullet will start at $24 (£12) per user per year in the US, with volume discounts available. No UK prices have been released yet.