Encrypted Hard Drives

Data security is a big issue – deservedly so.  What happens if your laptop/notebook or desktop computer should fall into the wrong hands?  What would happen if the hard disk drive in a computer that you no longer use should wind up in the hands of a person interested in your data?  The answer, in many cases, would be simple:  the data on the drive can be read and used in any way the person who has the drive wishes to use it.  Credit card data, other personal information, and who knows what other sensitive documents will probably be wide open to exploitation.

One answer is to encrypt the data stored on your hard disk drives.  Hard drives that support built-in encryption are available in desktop and in notebook sizes.

Seagate, for example, has announced encrypted drives with a variety of features that go beyond just encryption.  The notebook drives may include an optional sensor that detects when the drive (or the computer that the drive is installed into) is in free fall.  When the sensor in the drive detects that the drive is dropping, the heads are moved to an area where data surfaces won’t be harmed by the impact.

Although I mention Seagate, largely because they’ve just announced a new line of self-encrypting notebook drives, it’s important to note that other drive makers also offer self-encrypting hard drives.

Additionally, varying levels of security are available.  Some drives  are FIPS (Federal  Information Processing Standard(s)) certified, the US government standards for implementations of cryptographic modules—that is, hardware or software that encrypts and decrypts data or performs other cryptographic operations.   The FIPS standard (FIPS 140-2) has four levels of protection, with each level being more rigorous, and with the highest levels detecting when a user attempts to open the drive.

Hard drives can be encrypted in a number of ways.  The Seagate drives mentioned above are based on hardware encryption, but a drive can be encrypted with software as well.  There are also different levels of encryption such as 128 bit, 192 bit and 256 bit.  These levels refer to the size of the “key” necessary to decode the data.  As the size of the “key” increases, the security of the encryption increases as well since there are many more potential values for the “key”.

Regardless whether the encryption is software or hardware based, any hard drive with at least 128 bit encryption makes it extremely difficult to make sense of any of the encrypted data on the drive.

The price premium for encrypting drives, versus standard unencrypting drives is relatively  small – especially when compared to the potential cost of unauthorized access to the data stored on an unencrypted drive.

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Posted in Encryption, Hard Drive

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