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How Vulnerable Are Encrypted Hard Drives?

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on February 24, 2008

It looks more research is needed before we find out just how safe new disk drives with built-in hardware encryption are.

A group of researchers at Princeton created a stir last week with a paper describing a technique for extracting the hard-drive encryption keys from computers. An email from a reader raised the question of whether the technique would work against self-contained full-disc encrypted drives, such as the Seagate Momentus FDE (PDF) that I wrote about last fall.

I passed the question on to Princeton’s Edward W. Felten, who quickly got back to me with this reply: “The short answer is that we don’t know. A system of that type could be secure, in principle, but there are many details that would have to be gotten right, to make sure that (1) there’s no way to extract the key from the drive controller, and (2) there’s no way to reboot the computer into a different operating system without the key being fully erased from the drive controller.”

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Reader Comments


February 27, 2008 07:49 PM

the only encrypted way you can work with your computer is to unplug your Ethernet cable. When you is done with your viewing or work, save it in a flash drive or a hard drive enclosure then put it away. plug the ethernet cable back in .. Or you can do it by clicking off your network connection by disabling it on the screen as you know where to do it... I prefer to physically unplug the cable but it is connected to the back of the case and i have to bend over to do it... everytime of course.... if you have a wireless modem , or wireless router unplug them as well... anyting to do with internet is best protected by unplugging. simple physical prevention no software fantsasy!! or hardware fantasy ... just UNPLUG THE DAMN FRIGGINI ETHERNET LAN CABLE !!!

Steve Wildstrom

February 27, 2008 08:20 PM

@Gumby--Whether you are connected to a network or not has absolutely nothing to do with the encryption status of data stored on your hard drive. The Princeton paper deals with encryption of locally stored data, not of network traffic.

John Hollingswoth

March 5, 2008 04:35 AM

Isn't it policy, to not release encryption to the public, unless it has passed governmental stipulations, meaning that decryption is possible, just not readily or commonly available (except for governmental or manufacturer's knowledge base).

Adin Jan

December 30, 2008 04:01 AM

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Rhonda P.

October 28, 2009 06:40 PM

can you take an file from an encrypted hdd and put it on another unencrypted hdd and the encryption still be in place on it from the first hdd?

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