Locking Down Data in the Drive

With FireWire Encrypt, WiebeTech has come up with an elegant storage-based solution for on-the-fly data encryption, writes David Morgenstern.

According to the now-famous memo, it was a year ago that Bill Gates got security religion and started the company on the path of the Trustworthy Computing Initiative. By most accounts, we will be waiting a long, long while for Microsoft to make our data a bit more secure; however, a storage vendor seems to have come up with a quick fix that can nail down our data.

At last weeks Macworld Expo/San Francisco, Wichita, Kansas-based WiebeTech took the wraps off FireWire Encrypt, a cross-platform, hardware-based security system for individual hard disks. Instead of relying on some host-based module or routine, the FireWire Encrypt drives firmware will run the encryption and decryption routines on the fly. The company said it is currently licensing the technology and expects to ship drives this summer.

WiebeTechs scheme makes a lot of sense. Most host-based security software is difficult to use and often confusing to users. With the encryption tasks located on the drive, the host software can function normally, with its natural interface.

In addition, the encryption function will be completely transparent and self-contained. Users wont have to install any software on their machines, the company said. Other than entering a password, presented by the drives applet, the user (and the computer) wont even know that the encryption is there.

According to WiebeTech CEO James Wiebe, the technology uses 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). By encrypting data as well as the drives file structures and partition maps, FireWire Encrypt will provide greater security than available from host software-based methods.

"Theres a large reservoir of customers who are passionate about security," Wiebe said, adding that the demand for FireWire Encrypt drives will extend beyond the government, an obvious market for such a technology. "People need to be wary of their corporate and personal documents when traveling on the road. Its easy to lose a notebook and a hard drive, and the consequences can be serious."

Wiebe said he expects the technology in a wide range of products, including small, portable hard drives as well as larger 3.5-inch mechanisms. He even expects its use in small keychain storage devices. Not surprisingly, the Macworld Expo demonstration ran on Mac OS X, but Wiebe said FireWire Encrypt will encompass a range of platforms by the time it ships, including flavors of Windows and Linux as well as the old-school Mac OS 9.

While Im no engineer, WiebeTechs approach to the security problem sounds elegant. It adds data encryption with no fuss to the user, the operating system and the application. Meanwhile, the encryption engine stays with the drive, where it belongs.

Still, heres a request in advance that Im sure will be appreciated by future customers: FireWire Encrypt drives should let users create both encrypted and non-encrypted partitions. I bet theres always data we want to share, without any worry about passwords and encryption.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.