Seagate tries again with encrypted drive

The Momentus 5400 FDE.2 will include a special encryption chip

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

The Momentus 5400 FDE.2 (Full Disk Encryption 2) model 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 laptop computers, the 2.5-in., 5,400-rpm drive will come with a storage capacity of 80GB, 120GB or 160GB.

The drive will be password-protected, but Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Seagate expects notebook vendors to develop additional authentication systems, such as fingerprint or 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 computers that feature the disks, said Scott Shimomura, a senior product marketing manager at 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.

The FDE.2 will ship with better-performing 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard encryption than the FDE had; it will also have a faster Serial ATA interface.

Seagate's drives will be available to notebook manufacturers around January, which means they should ship in laptops 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 $100.

Seagate also expects to expand DriveTrust technology 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."

In a recent survey by security vendor Vontu Inc. and the Ponemon Institute, 81% 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. 

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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