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IBM's Security Answer: Tape It Up

New tape drive system automatically encrypts all data, foiling would-be hackers and careless handlers, Big Blue says

IBM's System Storage unit today attacked the Goliath enterprise data security problem with a weapon that even David might not have thought of: a tape drive.

Big Blue introduced the TS1120, a new version of its tape storage subsystem that includes an encryption chip in the processor and a decoding key in every cartridge. The system guarantees that all data stored or backed up to tape will be encrypted, virtually eliminating the possibility that stored files will be hacked, stolen, or exposed after being lost.

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) did a lot of crowing about the new drive -- a PR pitch called it "the most advanced encryption computer system ever built" -- and executives painted a picture of the drive that essentially positions it as the answer to the recent rash of reported data losses in major corporations. Such claims might be a bit much, but security officers and other experts say the company might be onto something in the storage arena.

"We were thrilled to hear that IBM is offering a tape encryption solution," says Debbie Wheeler, CISO at Fifth Third Bank.

Kevin Roden, executive vice president and CIO at Iron Mountain, one of the industry's largest off-site data storage providers, says there are about 100 million tapes -- some 75 percent of the world's data -- currently in storage around the globe. Many of those tapes are not encrypted because of the hassles and performance issues associated with encryption, he observes.

"A lot of companies are looking for an answer, and we think the TS1120 is a winner," he says.

IBM has developed a custom ASIC chip that can be placed in its storage devices (encryption for hard drives and other media is forthcoming) to encrypt all data as it's stored. The chip uses standard AES encryption with a public key the enterprise can keep in a central place.

The cartridges contain the other half of the key, and are encrypted themselves. Only the company that holds the key can decrypt what's on the tape, so a tape thief or a hacker accessing the tapes electronically would be able to pull up only unreadable code, IBM officials say.

The TS1120 doesn't encrypt data on laptops or portable storage devices yet, and it doesn't encrypt data transmitted over the network. But it's already catching on, according to Andy Monshaw, general manager of IBM's System Storage unit.

"There's so much demand that we decided to release it early, and we surpassed our sales goals for the year before we even introduced it," Monshaw says.

The TS1120 is available now for $35,500 and up. IBM issued a "statement of direction" that it will add the encryption capability to its other storage devices and media, but executives did not give a specific timetable for the rollout of those products.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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