The Hard Way

Hardware-based encryption does not require user intervention

Almost every day, a report of lost, stolen or missing notebook PCs and hard drives or of related data breaches shocks the global community, including those people whose data has been compromised. Protection of data on individual systems and drives, as well as in data centers, has become a necessity for corporations, universities, government agencies and other organizations.

The Trusted Computing Group has worked with storage standards groups to create an open specification that enables full-disk encryption for hard disk drives, also called self-encrypting drives. This encryption is hardware-based and transparent to the user. Once the drive is in the system, data is automatically and continually encrypted. If a user cannot authenticate access to the system or if the system is lost or stolen, the hard drive locks and becomes useless. Further, this hardware-based encryption does not require user intervention and does not impact system performance as encryption usually does.

The Security Dilemma
Today, more than 40 breach notification laws exist. These laws are rapidly moving the industry toward full-disk encryption. Protecting data that is lost or stolen requires a breach notification, unless the drive has FDE. With FDE, no notification is required, as long as it can be proven that the data was encrypted.

The transportability of laptops makes them a prime target for loss, theft and encryption of sensitive data. While drives may be secure in the data center, eventually every drive leaves due to failure, maintenance, reconditioning, end of life, or even loss or theft. In fact, 50,000 drives are decommissioned from data centers each day.

As a result, the same rules for laptops apply to drives, even in the data center. The data on the drive should be encrypted before it leaves the data center. Rather than requiring an additional off-drive and upstream process to encrypt the drive, this on-drive encryption should protect the data center under normal operation.

Encryption Solutions
In the data center, there are various points to implement either software- or hardware-based encryption. Softwarebased schemes, however, can be thwarted by the same viruses and malware they attempt to prevent.

There are several reasons to perform encryption directly on the hard drive as opposed to some point upstream in the data center. For example, there are performance and efficiency issues in data deduplication and data compression.

Deduplication tools require looking at the plain text. Since much of the data is the same, storing it once and pointing to that data whenever it is needed in some other context through deduplication techniques frees up a significant amount of storage space. With encrypted data, deduplication cannot be performed because the same data encrypted at different points in the data stream could look different in encrypted form. Decompression techniques require redundancy in the message for compression. Encrypted data is totally random and has no built-in redundancy, so it cannot be compressed.

As a result, encrypting too early in the data flow makes deduplication and decompression algorithms ineffective and interferes with end-to-end integrity metrics. Within the data center, data should not be encrypted until it reaches the drive. However, deduplication and decompression provide only part of the incentive for encrypting directly on the drive. When encryption is performed everywhere or anywhere instead of in the drive, the situation is quite complex. Managing encryption, as well as authentication keys, is one of the more important aspects of encryption. The authentication key unlocks the drive. Only the hash value of the authentication key is stored on the drive for comparison during authentication. Furthermore, the encryption key is encrypted under the authentication key and stored on the drive.

Full-disk Protection
In an FDE drive, the encryption keys are established in the factory by on-board random number generators and never leave the drive, eliminating the need to manage encryption keys. In the data center, key management only requires managing the authentication keys, which eliminates layers of key management.

FDE reduces IT complexity. The database administrators, application developers, operating system, encryption engine and network issues are all eliminated by encrypting at the drive. The storage system upgrades by schedule in an FDE system. Adding drives is simple since each drive comes with its own encryption key. The system has scalability, and encryption is performed in hardware, allowing full-channel-speed operation.

Encrypting stored data outside the drive has planning and management issues that add to complexity, errors and data recoverability risk. These include problems that can occur in the following scenarios: when application developers change applications, when database administrators change databases, in managing and scaling encryption CPU demand as storage and I/Os are added, through extra storage for decreased compression and deduplication effectiveness, by tracking both encryption and local keys on all associated hardware/ software for data recovery and in granular data classification.

In contrast, when encryption is performed in the drive, the process is simplified by adding a key service to one server and adding FDEs to application storage with scheduled upgrades.

Cost is a primary business value. For FDE, the initial acquisition costs are reduced when encryption is integrated into standard products and implemented according to a standard storage upgrade schedule. Additional cost reduction occurs from reduced drive decommissioning and insurance, the ability to compress and deduplicate, and preservation of drive hardware value through easy repurposing. Since simply deleting the key sanitizes the drive, the drive can continue to perform a useful function rather than being scrapped.

Without FDE, there are transport issues, and degaussing, shredding and overwriting techniques must be used at the end of a drive’s life. None of these techniques is foolproof, and all have additional cost. With FDE, the simple erasure of the key sanitizes the drive, making it unreadable. FDE becomes practical and ubiquitous with open industry standards.

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