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Slicing sensitive corporate data for secure, dispersed storage

Cleversafe looks to a new approach to protect critical data

By Todd R. Weiss
August 9, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - SAN FRANCISCO -- S. Christopher Gladwin, who some 10 years ago founded the MusicNow online music retrieval and sales service, is hoping that he has just developed a better mousetrap to secure storage of business data.

Using techniques borrowed from his former start-up, which he later sold to AOL LLC, and from existing Internet and security protocols, Gladwin has created Cleversafe Inc., a Chicago-based data security company. Cleversafe's software takes critical data and cuts it up into anywhere from four to 128 "slices" that can be sent and stored securely in one location -- or across multiple data centers. The slices are not useful individually to hackers or thieves.

Carving up data using complex algorithms yields slices that can't be used or read without a certain "threshold" number of the remaining slices. A typical data file could be cut into 16 slices, for example, with 12 of them needed so the data can be combined in a usable format.

"The data in one location is useless, which makes the transport and storage secure," said Gladwin, the company's CEO and chairman, in an interview at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in the Moscone Convention Center here.

Gladwin said he got the idea for Cleversafe's "dispersed storage" after he sold MusicNow and spent time developing a way to keep his own personal files, photos and documents secure and accessible for a period of at least 50 years. Using advanced code-breaking techniques, he came up with a way to securely slice and save all the information so it wouldn't be accessible to anyone else but him, he said.

Cleversafe, which recently made its code available under an open-source license, has not yet launched its products but is working to build test networks to prove the technology, Gladwin said. The debut of a beta and a finished product have not yet been scheduled.

Cleversafe plans to sell and license its technology to service providers that would then offer the data slicing and storage capabilities to customers for a fee, Gladwin said. The service-provider model is necessary, he said, because building a huge network infrastructure would be too expensive and massive a project for Cleversafe to tackle quickly. "If we're going to grow to store the world's data, there's no way to do that and be one company," Gladwin said. "If we're going to build that big a storage system, there has to be 100 companies behind it."

The process is similar to packet switching over the internet, where data is transmitted in bite-size pieces that are combined at the receiving end. But instead of sending the data in packets, it is sliced and stored. "It's applying the approach of the Internet to storage," he said. The data can also be encrypted.

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