Coming soon: Full-disk encryption for all computer drives

Drive makers settle on a single encryption standard

The world's six largest computer drive makers Tuesday published the final specifications (download PDF) for a single, full-disk encryption standard that can be used across all hard disk drives, solid state drives (SSD) and encryption key management applications. Once enabled, any disk that uses the specification will be locked without a password — and the password will be needed even before a computer boots.

The Trusted Computing Group's (TCG) three specifications cover storage devices in consumer laptops and desktop computers as well as enterprise-class drives used in servers and disk storage arrays.

"This represents interoperability commitments from every disk drive maker on the planet," said Robert Thibadeau, chief technologist at Seagate Technology and TCG chairman. "We're protecting data at rest. When a USB drive is unplugged, or when a laptop is powered down, or when an administrator pulls a drive from a server, it can't be brought back up and read without first giving a cryptographically-strong password. If you don't have that it's a brick. You can't even sell it on eBay."

By using a single, full-disk encryption specification, all drive manufacturers can bake security into their products' firmware, lowering the cost of production and increasing the efficiency of the security technology.

Whenever an OS or application writes data to a self-encrypting drive, there is no bottleneck created by software, which would have to interrupt the I/O stream and convert the data, so the user never sees encrypted data at the speed of I/O, so no slowdown, Thibadeau said.

"Also, the encryption machinery uses no power. When it reads data from the drive, it displays it to the user in the clear. It's completely transparent to the user," he said.

The TCG includes Fujitsu, Hitachi, Seagate Technology, Samsung, Toshiba, Western Digital, Wave Systems, LSI Logic, UNLINK Technology and IBM.

"In five years time, you can imagine any drive coming off the production line will be encrypted, and there will be virtually no cost for it," said Jon Oltsik, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group.

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