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Encryption standards are here - but not for flash or tape

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Multi-vendor standards for self-encrypting storage devices are emerging through the Trusted Computing Group. But flash and tape drives are not included in them.

The new TCG specifications mean that drives which encode their contents can be interoperable with key managers and trusted platform modules and be interchangeable in storage arrays. Lose these drives or have them stolen and your data will be safe.

The Trusted Computing Group is a not-for-profit industry standards organization formed to develop, define, and promote open standards for hardware-enabled trusted computing and security technologies, including hardware building blocks and software interfaces, across multiple platforms, peripherals, and devices. Its primary goal is to help users protect their information assets (data, passwords, keys, etc) against theft and external software attacks.

It has issued three new standards covering PC clients, data centres and storage interfaces:

- Opal is a security subsystem class specification (PDF) for storage devices in PCs and notebooks
- The Enterprise security subsystem class specification (PDF) applies to data centres
- The Storage Interface Interactions Specification (PDF) (SIIS) applies to a storage device's interaction with access protpcols such as SCISI, ATAPI, PATA, SATA, Fibre Channel and SAS
- A fourth standard issued late last year covers optical storage (PDF).

All the hard disk drive manufacturers - Hitachi GST, Fujitsu, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital - support this. Indeed, Robert Thibadeau, the chair of the TCG's Storage Work Group, is a chief technologist at Seagate Research in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, although he is on long-term leave as a professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University.

Thibadeau is quoted in the TCG press release, saying: "TCG’s approach to Trusted Storage gives vendors and users a transparent way to fully encrypt data in hardware without affecting performance so that data is safe no matter what happens to the drive."

These new standards will be widely welcomed - but they do not cover flash drives, neither USB thumb nor solid state drive (SSD) formats, nor tape drives. The TCG has various working groups, including mobile device and hard copy groups, but it does not have dedicated flash or tape groups.

The remit of the storage working group focusses on dedicated storage systems, which obviously include flash and tape technology devices. Also the various interfaces covered in the SIIS effort include ones used for tape drives but neither the Opal not the Enterprise specifications specifically cover flash and tape media drives.

An overview of the Enterprise specification says it enables the encryption of all user data on media and gives the example of Full Disc Encryption – FDE - a Seagate term.

There is no mention of any equivalent FTE - full tape encryption - and no mention of self-encrypting LTO4 tape drives. The LTO Consortium is not a member of the TCG although LTO Consortium members HP and IBM are. The third LTO Consortium member, Quantum, is not a member of the TCG. With the LTO consortium not being in the TCG there is no guarantee that LTO4 tape drives will be compliant with the Enterprise specification, potentially putting any tiered storage system combining disks and LTO4 tape at a disadvantage.

The TCG members' list doesn't include IMFT, Mtron, SanDisk or STEC who all make flash-based solid state drives.

The absence of a tape and flash media focus is a little puzzling as there is an TCG optical storage workgroup and its purpose is: "to provide a set of specifications that enable the implementation of Trusted Optical Storage. Using standards-based encryption techniques and methodologies, the new optical specifications will allow users to create, edit, and share optical discs, with protection against theft or loss. An authority will be available to ensure interoperability among device manufacturers."

Substitute 'flash' or 'tape' for the word 'optical' and the omission of any flash and tape media focus from the TCG becomes more apparent.

The TCG believes the new specifications represent one of the most effective ways to ensure data is secure against virtual and physical attacks. There is an apparent and obvious gap waiting to be filled here, as lost and stolen flash drives and tape cartridges account for many of the terabytes of the data at risk circulating in the unknown and untrusted seas around the seamier edges of the information society. ®

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