Seagate preps hard disk encryption technology

Laptop data thieves could face some new challenges

Seagate will start shipping a security technology for some of its hard-disk drives next year that will make life more difficult for notebook PC thieves to read stolen data, it says.

The technology, called Hardware-Based Full Disc Encryption (FDE), automatically encrypts all the data written to the drive, according to Mark Pastor, strategic marketing senior director at Seagate.

"Before data gets placed on the media, it goes through the encryption ... if you steal the drive and are a lab that specializes in retrieving data on the media, it doesn't matter. When you get the data off, it's gibberish," he says.

The encryption is Triple DES, a widely-used encryption standard, he says.

The company is initially offering the FDE technology as an option on its upcoming range of 2.5-inch Momentus 5400 series drives. These drives will start shipping in the first half of next year and are designed for notebook PCs, Pastor says.

"Notebook PCs have two key attributes: they are used by a lot of business travellers and they are easily lost or stolen. Protecting notebooks is our first priority," he says.

The technology will be available for notebook PC makers on 40GB, 80GB and 120GB versions of the Momentus 5400-series drives, which will have a spin speed of 5,400rpm and use the Ultra ATA-100 interface.

The hard disk drives with the encryption technology will have exactly the same performance as the drives in the series that don't use the technology. But the drives with the security feature will be more expensive, Pastor says. Pricing for the drives was not available.

Seagate estimates that about 10% of the Momentus 5400 series could be shipped with the security technology. If the feature catches on, the company will extend the option to a broader range of disks, he says.

In addition to offering the FDE technology, Seagate will offer software tools to customers so that they are able to add their own security features, for example biometric systems such as fingerprint scanners, to work with Seagate's technology, he says.

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