Victorinox, maker of the original Swiss Army knife, today launched its range of Victorinox secure data storage devices in Europe. The Victorinox Secure Pro is a USB flash drive using fingerprint biometric security to authenticate AES256 encryption technology inside.

So confident is Victorinox that the device cannot be penetrated by unauthorised users that it has set a £100,000 prize challenge to anyone who can gain access to one of its memory sticks.

The competition started at 10am today at Victorinox's flagship shop in New Bond Street, London, and runs until 6pm on Friday 25th March. Potential hackers are given access to a PC and an example of a locked stick, with two hours to try their skills.

A similar competition was run earlier this year, when the Victorinox Secure range had its worldwide debut at this year's CES in January. No-one was then able to successfully gain access.

The device uses a variation on familiar fingerprint readers, reading a user's unique fingerprint pattern to identify the owner. Additional oxygen and thermal sensors help ensure that an incoming fingerprint pattern belongs to a live finger, rather than a lifted pattern or an amputated finger.

To improve security internally, the patented device uses a single-chip architecture - MKI Schnuffi Platform Single Chip Technology - reducing the chances of data lines being intercepted on the circuit board. And the device's CPU4 processor lies directly below the fingerprint sensor, further reducing the chances of hardware hacking.

The processor includes a level of intelligence to detect hardware and software hacking attempts. If it determines such a break-in attempt, including brute-force password attacks, the Victorinox Secure can literally self-destruct. The full effect of the USB bus power (5V at 500mA) is directed into both the NAND flash memory and the processor, fusing the silicon beyond repair.

At today's launch, we spoke to the man behind the technology, Martin Kuster, CEO of security chip specialist MKI.

‘I'm concerned about the way technology is progressing, with all our personal data going into "the cloud". Soon everything will go into the cloud - and I don't like it! Perhaps one day I will have to buy back all this information from eBay!

‘People tend to use insecure passwords, such as the most common 123456. But what's better than a password? Your finger. It's difficult to leave it at home.

‘We have designed various layers of defence, with the self-destruct feature as the last feature to prevent unauthorised users ever accessing your data. Before this stage, there is a lock-out in firmware, which can be reset by Victorinox.'

But Kuster emphasised that even then, MKI has no access to the personal data stored on the device.

Victorinox Secure Pro USB flash drive

The Victorinox Secure Pro, encrypted biometric USB flash drive - available with and without blades

Various types of Victorinox secure USB storage are available, including the Presentation Master in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities, with built-in laser pointer and Bluetooth. The Bluetooth chip works with a thumb clicker button and allows remote control of a PowerPoint slideshow.

Prices start at £100 for the Victorinox Secure Pro 8GB, which sports an LED mini light and retractable ballpoint pen, with a 32GB version costing £245.

The Victorinox Presentation Master, meanwhile, starts at £170 for 8GB storage, up to £320 for 32GB.

A Flight Version of all these models differs by omitting the traditional Swiss Army knife blades, and saves around £5 on the retail price.

To activate the security features, a Windows-only application is included on each Victorinox secure storage device.

Other options offered include the facility to create an encrypted volume on your PC, authenticated by the Victorinox device. There are also plans to allow the technology to be used to provide Windows user-login authentication.