Avoid built-in SSD encryption to ensure data recovery after failure, warns specialist


Adrian Briscoe, general manager of Kroll Ontrack

Companies wanting to ensure their data is recoverable from solid state disk (SSD) drives should make sure they use third-party encryption tools with known keys rather than relying on devices’ built-in encryption, a data-recovery specialist has advised.

Noting that the shift from mechanical hard drives to flash RAM-based solid state disk (SSD) drives had increased the complexity of data recovery, Adrian Briscoe, general manager of data-recovery specialist Kroll Ontrack, told CSO Australia that the growing use of SSD in business servers, mobile phones, tablets, laptops and even cloud data centres had made recovering data from the devices “a very black or white situation”.

“You either get everything or you don’t get everything at all” from damaged SSD-based equipment, he explained.

“With mechanical hard drives it’s a percentage situation, particularly since large drives are typically not used to capacity. But with SSDs we spend a lot of time trying to find ways of recovering data. The major issue is interacting with the [SSD controller] chips: Although there are only six controller chip makers, there are at least 220 manufacturers of SSD devices, and the way they’re designed is different from one device to the next.”

Many manufacturers, in particular, had taken their own approaches to data security, automatically scrambling the information on SSDs with encryption keys that are stored on the device itself.

That has presented new challenges for the company’s data-recovery engineers, who work from a dedicated data-recovery clean-room in Brisbane where damaged hard drives are regularly rebuilt to the point where their data can be recovered.

The proportion of SSD and flash RAM media going to that cleanroom had grown steadily, from 2.1 per cent of all data recovery jobs in late 2008 to 6.41 per cent of jobs in Q4 2012.

Recovering data from SSDs is already more difficult than sequential-write hard drives because SSD-stored data is distributed throughout the flash RAM cells by design. Once SSD-stored keys are made inaccessible by damage to the device, however, recovering the data becomes far more complicated – and chances of getting any of it back plummet.

“SSD devices do have encryption on them, and we are recommending people not use hardware encryption on an SSD if they are wanting to ever recover data from that device,” Briscoe explained, suggesting that users instead run computer-based software like the open-source TrueCrypt, whose keys can be managed by the user rather than internally by the drive itself.

“By having encryption turned on, an SSD with a hardware key is going to fail any data recovery effort,” he continued. “We are not hackers, and we can’t get into encrypted data. Instead, we’re recommending that people use something that holds the key outside the device.”

Many users had yet to appreciate the complexity that SSD poses, with a November 2012 customer survey suggesting just 31 per cent were aware of the complexity of SSD-based encryption and 48% saying there was no additional risk posed by using SSDs. An additional 38 per cent said they didn’t know.

The SSD challenge isn’t limited to smartphone-wielding users, however: as data-centre operators increasingly turn to SSD to boost the effective speed of their data-storage operations, Briscoe warned that a growing number of the company’s recovery operations were involving data lost to cloud-computing operators.

“A lot of vendors are using hybrid solutions with a bank of SSDs in a storage area network, then write data to [conventional] drives,” he said.

“We’re seeing more and more instances of cloud providers losing data: they rely very much on snapshots, and if something happens to the data – if there is corruption to the operating system or some type of user error – we are having more and more cloud providers coming to us with data loss.”

Follow @CSO_Australia and sign up to the CSO Australia newsletter.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about CSOKrollKroll Ontrack

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by David Braue

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place