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6/19/2009
04:52 PM
George Crump
George Crump
Commentary
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Decommissioned Storage Justifies Encryption

There are many reasons to justify storage encryption; tapes falling off the back of a truck on the way to a vault for disaster recovery purposes is one, but when it comes to disk encryption not many have made the effort to encrypt disk based data. While that disk array is in your environment it should be relatively secure, except from internal threats, but what about when you decommission a storage array?

There are many reasons to justify storage encryption; tapes falling off the back of a truck on the way to a vault for disaster recovery purposes is one, but when it comes to disk encryption not many have made the effort to encrypt disk based data. While that disk array is in your environment it should be relatively secure, except from internal threats, but what about when you decommission a storage array?Storage arrays get old and the time comes to replace them. Typically companies either throw them out or put them for sale on various online auction sites, but what do they do about the data on those drives? I'm sure at a minimum most organizations format them over, assuming it is safe; in our findings that is also the typical maximum that customers go to to wipe clean their array. Its true that a few companies physically destroy the drives in the array and a few more encrypt data on the drives but that population is in the small minority.

Let's be clear, formatting does not wipe clean the array and there are a lot of smart bad guys out their that want to see your data and a decommissioned array is a higher target than a tape lying in the street. That tape for example has to be found by an IT person who also has the knowledge to not only find a tape drive that can be read but also determine what backup format it was written in.

Disks that are decommissioned, especially those re-sold online, are a hacker's dream come true. They can be found in one place and its way easier to get at the data on those than being lucky enough to find a box of tapes on the street. This morning there were 176 drive arrays available for sale on one online site. With a small investment, the hacker could go treasure hunting. If they can access the system and the data contents on it, that data could be resold or more likely used to blackmail the parent organization.

Universal encryption of data written to disk can now be done with little or no performance impact and the cost for these systems are becoming very affordable. Once data is encrypted, the keys can be deleted or removed for a decommissioned array and the data on that system rendered useless.

While encryption of storage has many other values beyond just decommissioned arrays, this one example in and of itself may justify the purchase of an encrypted environment.

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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

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