Misplaced notebook computers have been blamed for a surprising number of high-profile data security breaches that have put the personal information of thousands at risk. No doubt there are many other cases that don’t involve the public at large but can have potentially detrimental consequences for a lost laptop’s owner. Physical security is tough for notebooks because you can’t just chain them to a desk, but Seagate’s latest Momentus 5400 FDE.2 hard drive should make it much easier to protect hard drive data from prying eyes.
The FDE.2 is Seagate’s second hard drive to feature full-disk encryption, and the first to be available under a new DriveTrust initiative. All disk data is encrypted in real-time by a 128-bit AES crypto engine running on a dedicated ASIC. The encryption scheme is platform independent and doesn’t require drivers or software. According to Seagate, the performance and power consumption impact associated with encryption isn’t significant enough for users to notice. Access to disk data can be policed by optional software or controlled by the existing ATA password function.
Apart from its crypto capabilities, the Momentus 5400 FDE.2 is as up-to-date as you’d expect from a 2.5″ mobile hard drive. Perpendicular recording serves up 60, 80, and 160GB capacities, all of which spin at 5,400 RPM with 8MB of cache. Drives are available in ATA and Serial ATA flavors, but there currently isn’t a version that spins at 7,200 RPM. Seagate says that there are no technical limitations that would prevent it from implementing full-disk encryption on a 7,200-RPM mobile drive, or even a 15K-RPM SCSI drive, but they claim a 5,400 RPM mobile drive makes the most sense for the technology right now.
In the future, Seagate sees additional potential for on-disk encryption. The technology can be used to provide trusted applications with their own partitions that would otherwise be hidden from the operating system. That could allow, for example, an anti-virus program to keep its virus definition files separate from the system and free of potential corruption. It could also provide key storage for programs enforcing Digital Rights Management. Seagate is well aware that DRM isn’t terribly popular among PC enthusiasts, but it’s a reality for consumer electronics devices powered by the company’s DB35 hard drive line.
Momentus 5400 FDE.2 drives will become available in the channel in December and as options in OEM systems by January. The drives will be more expensive than their non-FDE counterparts, but Seagate says the premium will be less than what you’d pay for software encryption.