Sunday, September 14, 2014

IsoStick & Zalman/IODD enclosures

Update: I really hate when I loose a primary source that inspires me to write a post to begin with! The following Malwarebytes Unpacked blog post was the genesis of this entire post. Not only does it provide good context for the IsoStick’s usage but also a great “Pros/Cons” roundup as well. - CV

I have two main hardware data-storage platforms I prefer to use. Both carry my library of “portable” sysadmin & for/sec tools and utilities when working with systems. The other also carries ISO files of LiveCD’s and other ISO-packaged installation media. Both are LiveOS bootable; however the first is limited to WinPE type loads while the second gives me an expansive array of LiveBoot options.

The first is my trusty Kanguru Solutions brand (write-block switched) 16 GB Kanguru USB flash drive. The latest iteration are call “FlashBlu30” and use the USB 3.0 format. Mine is a older 2.0 version but is still very spiffy. Unfortunately, despite all the house-cleaning, I’ve only got less than 2 GB of free space remaining so I’m trying to decide if I want to invest in a 32GB or 64 GB newer version. Decisions!

The second is my faithful iodd : Multi-boot madness! external hard drive enclosure. It has gone through a lot of changes since first coming out and the current distributor/name is Zalman. Long story short, these external HDD drive enclosures allow for storage of ISO files and then loading/launching them as virtualized drives. Basically, instead of carrying a large stack of CD/DVD media with you, just load your ISO images of them on the drive and then select/boot accordingly from your external drive enclosure. Cool! Amazon has a large select of Zalman enclosures at crazy-cheap prices, including USB 3.0 models. And who doesn’t have some spare 2.5” hdd’s lying around these days to drop into one?  I personally like the ZM-VE300 and ZM-HE130 models. Oh, one more thing, they also have physical write-block switches to protect your drive from write-back if used on a questionable (infected) system.

So with those preferences in mind, I’ve been watching the steady development and growth of a product that seeks to marry the convenient-carry of a USB stick with the ability to load ISO files via a virtualized optical drive like the IODD/Zalman enclosures.

So how does it work? Basically when you purchase the ISOSTICK, you are getting a USB stick “enclosure” in which you can load/swap microSDXC cards. Seems more convenient in some ways to the IODD/Zalman approach. It does require use of the FAT32 format but can split ISO files so the 4 GB limit isn’t an issue. (With later firmware updates, the IODD/Zalmans could support NTFS formatted partitions.) And it also comes with a hardware read-only switch. Available in the US from isostick for under $100.

If you are looking at -- or already using -- an ISOSTICK, I recently spotted this project worth exploring.

And the forums have a lot of good resources for general ISOstick users and the curious: ISOstick -


--Claus Valca

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