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Full disk encryption comes to SSDs for mobile devices, laptops

Dell adds encrypted drives to its Latitude line of laptops

April 16, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Samsung Electronics Co. announced today it is shipping its first self-encrypting solid-state disk (SSD) drives. The drives will come in 1.8-in. and 2.5-in. sizes for handheld devices and laptops, respectively.

In tandem with Samsung's announcement, Dell Inc. promptly introduced a suite of mobile data security technologies for its Latitude line of laptops, with native drive encryption expected to be available in the next few months.

"The drive, which is designed to deliver some of the fastest encrypted storage available, offers customers eight and a half times the shock tolerance versus standard notebook hard drives," Dell said in a statement.

Full disk encryption (FDE) is already a standard feature on some desktop and laptop hard disk drives, including Seagate's Momentus 5400 FDE.2 laptop drive. Samsung claims its SSD is the first to come with FDE.

While Samsung is not the first to offer hardware-based SSD encryption -- pureSilicon Inc. released its Renegade Series SSDs with hardware-based encryption in January -- Samsung is the first to offer the feature to the consumer market, according to Gene Ruth, an analyst at the Burton Group.

"For the laptop market, full disk encryption is a very important feature for security," Ruth said. "People are most likely to use these drives in a business environment and there it's a good and necessary thing. Also, for SSDs to be comparable to hard disk drives, encryption becomes another check mark."

Dell will be offering the new Samsung self-encrypting SSDs in its Latitude line of laptops
The Samsung encrypted SSD in a Dell

Samsung's news drives, which come in 256GB, 128GB and 64GB capacities, use AES encryption along with management software from Wave Systems Corp. Samsung was unable to provide model numbers for the drives, but did say the FDE feature will be available on its latest SSDs.

Dell said the Samsung drives add to the company's encryption technologies, which can be managed remotely with the Wave Embassy Server.

"Samsung has combined the tremendous performance advantages of solid-state technology with integrated hardware encryption for drives designed especially for today's 'road warrior' professionals," Samsung's vice president of memory systems, Jim Elliott, said in a statement. "Business users now get the best of performance and security in a single drive."

Samsung said its SSD performance is not affected by FDE, a drawback sometimes seen with hard drives.

The benefits of hardware encryption over today's software-only encryption approaches include faster performance, better security and an "always on" feature. "Because encryption keys and access credentials are generated and stored within the drive hardware, they never leave its confines and are never held in the operating system or by application software," Samsung said.

Jim McGregor, an analyst at research firm In-Stat, said Samsung's announcement is yet another part of the software equation that could boost SSD adoption over time. "Everyone mentions security as a growing concern, [but] only enterprise customers typically pay close attention to it," he said. "In enterprise applications, it is increasingly important to be able to provide security for data in a market where computers are increasingly mobile and subject to theft."

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