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SSDs may be the key to snappy performance on laptops and desktops, but they also create security risks due to their inability to be fully wiped with present technology. Better encrypt that data!  (Source: Gear Diary)
Revelation could prove a nightmare to careless businesses and individuals

Businesses and government offices are constantly replacing computers and buying new hardware.  Typically when this is done, data on the hard drives of the defunct machines is wiped, lest it fall into the wrong hands.

However, an intriguing study [press release] by researchers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) reveals that businesses thinking they've wiped NAND thumb drives or NAND solid-state drives (SSDs) may be in for a surprise.

Every time you write to a hard drive -- be it magnetic disk or NAND -- you make semi-permanent changes that persist until you overwrite that block of memory.  When you delete files on your computer, you typically are merely deleting the indexes of the files.  The actual data persists on the drive until you overwrite it.

Over a dozen methods have been worked out to try to fully overwrite data on a magnetic hard drive and permanently erase any traces of the drive's original contents.  Researchers tried those methods on flash drives and discovered that, at best, they left 10 MB of every 100 MB file intact.

To study how successful the data destruction was, the researchers took apart an SSD.  Rather than check the Flash Translation Layer (FTL), which would merely show data as indexed by the drive, they actually sliced out the physical chips and queried them via their pins.  This allowed them to test the data status at the lowest level.

The findings might shock some, but came as little surprise to the researchers who expected magnetic drive techniques to work less than optimally for SSDs.  

Some of the techniques attempted, such as Gutman's 35-pass method, Schneier 7-pass method, erased as much as 90 percent of data successfully.  But other techniques, like using pseudorandom numbers to overwrite data on the chip or using a British HMG IS5 baseline, left virtually the entire file intact.

Researchers Laura Grupp and Michael Wei comment, "Our results show that naïvely applying techniques designed for sanitizing hard drives on SSDs, such as overwriting and using built-in secure erase commands is unreliable and sometimes results in all the data remaining intact. Furthermore, our results also show that sanitizing single files on an SSD is much more difficult than on a traditional hard drive."

Of course, if you encrypt all the data on the SSD to start, you make it harder to access.  The researchers note this and suggest that to completely prevent data loss, users then destroy their keys and use new technology to directly overwrite all of the drive's pages.

Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor for Sophos Canada, blogged on the study praising its accuracy.  He writes, "To properly secure data and take advantage of the performance benefits that SSDs offer, you should always encrypt the entire disk and do so as soon as the operating system is installed... [S]ecurely erasing SSDs after they have been used unencrypted is very difficult, and may be impossible in some cases."

These results are not only troubling for business and government users, but for home users as well.  You have plenty of things to worry about falling into the wrong hands -- personal emails from your family; credit card records; medical records; and other private info.  At present, you can't be 100 percent sure you can securely dispose of SSDs with this kind of information, but by using encryption you can reduce the likelihood of someone get your information to almost zero. 

According to a recent iSuppli report, only 2 percent of laptops currently carry SSDs.  However, iSuppli predicts that by 2014, that total will rise to 8 percent.

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RE: Low Level Format.
By greylica on 2/23/2011 6:54:27 AM , Rating: 2
No, there is a hard difference between LLF and Zero Fill.
LLF is used to realocate cylinders/sectors in a physical disk, whereas zero fill will write your hdd with zeroes.
LLF can be used still today, and not only SCSI HDDs can use it, but some lucky guys that have some perc/cerc Sata raid cards with LLF in firmware also can wipe out and realocate sata HDDs.
The difference is when you do a LLF, your HDD hardware will scan your hard drive, reallocate bad sectors and will put hardware marks in blocks that cannot be used. It was often times used in the past because of physical expansion of the older disks. The physical expansion could then change the azymuth or alignement with the sectors of the hard disks, more often happening with step motors. In Sata and SCSI HDDs, you can do the same thing (Reallocation), but for other reasons, and the most important of them is to resolve bad block problems or to fully verify your disk health. Reallocated blocks will no longer be acessible even when you format your HDD, because the hardware marks will blind your formatting software from viewing those, changing the LBAs or CHS in a manner that you will no longer be able to reach them.
When you use LLF format, a bad block will be marked by hardware and you will loose that space. A Zero fill will still find those bad blocks, and will tell you that your HDD remains with the same size as before.
Also, there is a limit to mark bad blocks with LLF, to a point where some blocks cannot be reallocated due to firmware or spare space restrictions, in this case, even with LLF, you will see bad blocks when formatting your HDDs or zero filling.

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