Seagate to ship first encrypted hard drives soon

Beginning early next year, Seagate Technology LLC will begin shipping its first widely available hard drives with built-in encryption.

The Momentus 5400 FDE.2 (Full Disk Encryption 2) will include a special encryption chip that will make it impossible for anyone to read data off the disk, or even boot up a PC, without some form of authentication. Designed for notebook computers, the 2.5 inch, 5,400 RPM drive will come with a storage capacity of 80G bytes, 120G bytes or 160G bytes.

Users could give a password to gain access to the drive, but Seagate expects notebook vendors to also develop other authentication systems such as fingerprint and smart card readers.

Though PC makers have not yet publicly announced support for the technology, which Seagate is calling DriveTrust, the disk maker expects “many” PC makers to ship systems with the disks, said Scott Shimomura, a senior product marketing manager with Seagate.

Seagate is also working with software vendors to develop things such as enterprise password management systems that work with the drives, he said.

This kind of widespread adoption would distinguish the FDE.2 from Seagate’s first attempt at full drive encryption, the Momentus 5400 FDE, announced in June of last year.

That drive, which was not adopted by any major hardware makers, was considered a proof-of-concept product, Seagate now says.

Unlike the FDE, the FDE.2 will ship with better-performing 128-bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption and faster SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) interface.

Seagate’s drives will be available to notebook manufacturers around January, which means they should ship in notebooks shortly thereafter, Shimomura said.

Though Seagate wouldn’t say how much of a premium users would pay for encrypted drives, Shimomura said the price markup would be comparable with the cost of software-based encryption. That would put the extra charge for an encrypted notebook at less than US$100.

Seagate also expects to expand DriveTrust to its desktop and storage array platforms at some point, Shimomura said. “There’s nothing to say that this couldn’t eventually make its way into the smaller form factor drives as well,” he added. “Right now, we’re trying to address the markets that have the most immediate need.”

A recent survey by security vendor Vontu Inc. and The Ponemon Institute found that 81 percent of respondents reported that their companies had lost laptops containing sensitive information in the previous year. In 2006, lost or stolen laptops have been blamed for possible data breaches at Ernst & Young, Ahold USA and, most famously, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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