New Disk Encryption Standards Could Complicate Data Recovery

Monday, February 9th, 2009

When the world’s largest disk-makers joined last week to announce a single standard for encrypting disk drives, the move raised questions among users about how to deal with full-disk encryption once it’s native on all laptop or desktop computers.

For example, what happens if a user loses a password — essentially leaving the drive filled with data that can no longer be unencrypted? Or what if a drive becomes corrupted or damaged, the data has to be recovered by a third party — and your password is on the drive?

“Then you have just killed yourself,” said Dave Hill, an analyst at research firm Mesabi Group.

The Trusted Computing Group (TCG), made up of disk hardware and software vendors, last week published three encryption specifications to cover storage devices in consumer laptops and desktop computers as well as enterprise-class drives used in servers and disk storage arrays.

Some industry observers believe that within five years, all disk drive manufacturers will be offering drives — both hard disk and solid-state disk — that use the specifications for firmware-based encryption.

While enterprises using drives with full-disk encryption, such as the Seagate Momentus 5400 FDE.2 drive or Fujitsu’s 2.5 7200rpm self-encrypting drive, would monitor them through a central access administrator with a master password to unencrypt, consumers purchasing laptops or desktops with drives would face a more daunting scenario: They would need to either back up their data and their passwords, or lose their drives and data.

Robert Thibadeau, chief technologist at Seagate Technology LLC and chairman of the TCG, said the current disk-encryption specifications allow users to create more than one password to access data, so that if a user were to lose one, he could still access his hard drive with a backup password.

“Furthermore, with some password settings, you can provide a password that allows erasure so you can put the drive back into use, but the data will be gone,” Thibadeau said.

If a drive were to become corrupted or the hardware damaged and a data recovery firm needed to retrieve a user’s disk, Thibadeau said, the recovery firm could use the password to recover data from the damaged hardware. The TCG is also working with data recovery firms to create a technique that would allow them to recover encrypted data on drives using the standards, without requiring a user password.

Currently, however, if a user loses his password and a drive becomes damaged or corrupted, the data is not recoverable, Thibadeau admitted.

David Virkler, CIO at AdaptaSoft Inc., a payroll systems software and services company, said that administration of drives with hardware-based encryption is easy and that he has seen no I/O slowdown. Virkler installed Seagate’s self-encrypting, 2.5-in. Momentus 5400.2 drives in October 2007 on his company’s Dell laptops in order to protect customer financial data that his company often deals with in its service capacity.

He paid a $40 premium for each self-encrypting drive, spending about $120 total for each 80GB drive.

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Does Your Data Recovery Company Have A Clean Room?

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Clean rooms used are rooms that have been designed to reduce the level of particulates in the air like dust and airborne microbes. Clean room construction employs filters extensively. Staff would usually have to enter clean rooms through airlocks and wear protective gear while working inside the rooms.

For professional data and server recovery companies a clean room is an essential asset as hard drive repair often requires the use of exceptionally clean working conditions.

External air literally has to go through a range of extremely fine filters to ensure that any airflow into the clean room is totally clear of any harmful particles and often secondary systems are also in place with directed airflows to reduce the risk of internally generated contaminants coming into contact with the actual workbench area or surface.

Clean rooms come in a variety of classes depending on their usage and the class certification is an indication of the permitted number of particles per cubic meter that particular clean room is certified for as well as the actual number of particles that are permissible. Less and smaller is obviously best.

Clean rooms are used extensively in the pharmaceutical, semiconductor manufacturing and biotech industries. Data recovery centres typically use a Class 100 clean room that has an allowance of 100,000 particles per cubic meter (compared to 35 million particles per cubic meter in a normal room).

Why Are Clean Rooms Essential For Hard Drive Repairs?

Clean rooms are used for data recovery to prevent dust, electro static discharges and such disturbances. These kinds of precautions become necessary because even microscopic dust particles can damage the image on the drive platters, and make data recovery difficult.

Hard drive technology continues apace with drives being able to hold Terabytes of data but as this data becomes more densely packed on the platters, the chances of further damage are increased so it is essential that these hard drive repairs are carried out in the cleanest of environments.

Drive manufacturers usually specify that their product guarantee will become void if the drive is opened by anybody other than themselves, or their authorized agents. And typically, one of the conditions they impose on authorized agents is that the disks be opened in clean rooms meeting specified standards.

So in summary clean rooms are essential for maximising the chances of a successful data recovery from a failed drive, are necessary for warranty considerations and perhaps most important of all to protect the integrity of any data on the drive because in many cases if the data is not backed up once lost it is gone forever, the loss of which can be devastating for both individuals and businesses alike.

If you need to hand over your hard drive to a data recovery services company check the validation of their clean room. At the very least it should be class 100 certified although the top companies will have invested in even better standards, for example ISO class 3.

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How to Recover your Lost Data

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

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