Seagate Introduces Hardware-Encrypted Notebook Hard Drive

It offers full encryption of all data on the drive. If the computer is lost or stolen, the operating system won't boot up without a password, the company says.

Citing the need for improved security on mobile computing devices, Seagate Technology LLC today introduced a hard drive with full disk encryption.

Based on the Momentus 5400 family of notebook hard drives announced in April, the new version, dubbed the Momentus 5400 FDE, eventually will be inserted into notebook computers, tablet PCs and external storage products from various vendors.

The 2.5-inch drive offers full encryption of all data directly on the drive through a software key that resides on a portion of the disk nobody but the user can access. Every piece of data that crosses the interface encrypted without any intervention by the user, said Brian Dexheimer, executive vice president for global sales and marketing at the Scotts Valley, Calif.-based company.

"The user has to activate a password to access any data. In fact, the operating system wont even boot up until the password is entered," he said. "So if the computer is lost or stolen, even if they take the drive out of the system, it wont do them any good because all of the data on the drive is encrypted."

That type of encryption could be very useful, especially in situations where confidential data has been stored on mobile devices, said Jon Oltsik, a senior analyst specializing in storage security at Enterprise Strategy Group of Milford, Mass.

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"Think back to the executive at Wells Fargo whose laptop was stolen and had 450,000 customer records on it," he said. "In this situation, they would be protected, because nobody could access the confidential data. They wouldnt even have to publicly disclose the information."

Oltsik said he believes this is the first time a vendor has bolted encryption technology onto a physical disk drive.

"Weve had software encryption for years, and weve had hardware encryption, but its generally been done on a board or an appliance," he said. "This is a new approach."

Although notebook vendors have worked hard to bolster the security of their computers hard drives, Dexheimer said this is different.

"Protecting the data close to where it lives seems to be a superior option because you limit the number of areas that open you up to compromise," he said. "Were not relying on interaction with the operating system or a chip that resides outside of the drive. All of this happens within the contained environment of the drive."

Seagate chose to implement the disk encryption on the Momentus 5400 series first because mobile computing is under the greatest security scrutiny, but if the solution proves to be successful, the company will consider expanding it to other Seagate drives, Dexheimer said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about analysts stressing the need for storage security.

It makes a lot of sense for Seagate to start with mobile drives, said Greg Schulz, a senior analyst with Evaluator Group of Minneapolis, Minn.

"Mobile and laptop users need easy and transparent ways to protect their data without having to reconfigure their systems to leverage host or operating system-based encryption," he said.

"Its about time this sort of functionally emerges from shadows of government and specialized environments and becomes more mainstream for the rest of us."

Although no notebook vendors have yet signed up to incorporate the encrypted drives into their mobile units, Dexheimer expects that to change by years end.

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