Specifications for the FDE drives - Click to Enlarge
Upcoming notebook hard disk drive include encryption virtually impossible to decypher if removed

Seagate Technology introduced its Momentus Full Disk Encryption line of notebook drives last year along with perpendicular magnetic recording in its 5400.3 series of notebook drives. The 5400.3 notebook drives kept our mouths watering this past January but we were still left longing for Seagate's Momentus FDE line of fully encryptable notebook hard disk drives.

We had a chance to talk to the Momentus FDE Product Marketing Manager, Joni Clark, who answered our questions regarding the new technology, how it works, what features it holds, and things we should expect to see in the near future from Seagate.

DailyTech: How does the Full Disc Encryption Technology work?
Clark: Once the Momentus FDE drive is installed in a notebook PC and a password is set during the first boot, the onboard ASIC, or application specific integrated circuit, will be ready to encrypt data on-the-fly. Upon startup of a system the user will be asked to enter a password to allow access to the disk's contents. As a user's system writes data to the disk it will be encrypted with a 192-bit TDEA or 3DES encryption algorithm. The algorithm involves using three 64-bit keys to do an encrypt-decrypt-encrypt function with the keys in that order.  A string is encrypted with key 1 followed by a decryption with key 2 and is again encrypted with the 3rd key. Encryption is disc-wide and cannot be limited to certain parts of the disc yet. Seagate may choose to implement selective encryption features in future versions of the technology but the initial launch will be limited to full disc encryption only. Upon shutdown of the system the Momentus FDE drive will automatically lock the contents of the drive to prevent unauthorized access.

Currently all encryption is done automatically without the aid of software or customizable configurations. One of the benefits of a hardware encryption technology is that there is no performance hit while Seagate says there is a 30-40% hit in performance with software encryption. However, Clark mentioned that software support is more than just a possibility for future editions for customization of the drive encryption and other features. Additionally there were talks of providing bundles of the drive with authentication products such as USB keys, finger print scanners, biometric scanners, etc., along with software.

DailyTech: Can encryption be turned off for those who do not need it?
Clark: The short answer: No. The initial launch version of FDE will not feature an 'off-switch' so data will always be secured whether a user wants it to be or not. We assumed this product would be aimed at organizations that require a high level of security where data needs to be encrypted at all times. Seagate pointed out that even day-to-day information is just as sensitive as government level classified information to many organizations and Seagate is aiming the Momentus FDE line at just about any userbase with that requirement.

DailyTech: To what extent does the encryption operate?
Clark: Once data is written to the drive and the system is shut down the only way to access the contents of the encrypted drive is to use the user assigned password during startup. There can be a total of 4 master passwords and 4 user passwords. This helps organizations to allow access to more than one indivual such as managers and other users who require that access.

A concern we brought up during our interview with Momentus FDE's Product Marketing Manager pertained to the scenario where all passwords were lost. How would an organization access that encrypted data then?

Seagate's answer to this, as we would expect it to be, is that they do not keep any keys for any drives they manufacturer because of concerns over security. Holding on to the encryption keys for each FDE drive would defeat the purpose of designing the drive in the first place. The only way to access data on a protected drive without any keys would be through data recovery, and even then a cryptologist would need to be present to crack the triple-DES encryption.  The short answer is, losing all keys to the drive makes you data practically unusable.

DailyTech: Has there been a launch date decided for Momentus FDE?
Clark: A limited launch has been scheduled during which Seagate will begin to roll out the first batch of Momentus FDE notebook drives to a select group of organizations as a pilot which will continue over the next few months. Seagate states that launching a new technology such as FDE to test markets will help them gauge the usefulness of the product and feedback from these pilot organizations will allow them to improve the product for the final/official launch to the mass market.

We were not able to squeeze any names of the pilot organizations out of our Seagate contacts as we are sure policies are in place to ensure confidentiality but we have asked the kind folks at Seagate to keep us in the loop as things progress.  It would be fairly safe to say the top-tier notebook manufacturers that work with Seagate probably have something on the way.

DailyTech: What are the technical specifications of the Momentus FDE line?
Clark: Seagate's Momentus FDE line of notebook hard drives are the first to offer full hardware-based encryption and are planned to launch with capacities at 40, 60, 80, 100, and 120GB with an Ultra ATA/100 interface.

The peak transfer rates are factory clocked at 57.6MB/sec with the 5400 RPM rotational speed, an 8MB buffer, and average seek time on these models will be around 12.5ms. The product sheet lists the 120GB model to utilize 4 heads on 2 platters which probably pack in about 60GB each.

Our contacts at Seagate informed us that if the limited launch goes according to plan they may begin to implement perpendicular recording as early as the first half of 2007 with desktop drives using PMR coming later this year.

Our article last week about Seagate's 750GB Barracuda 7200.10 line piqued the interests of many of you and we are certain there will be news on that side of Seagate's product line soon (tommorow) and we will keep you updated on FDE as the launch progresses.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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