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Built-in Headaches

PC hardware vendors are building security capabilities into their systems, but those features may present compatibility problems for IT

The good news is your end users will soon have a bunch of new security capabilities at their disposal. The bad news is those capabilities won't necessarily be compatible with your current security strategy.

Over the last few weeks, PC hardware vendors have been rolling out security technology like beer at Oktoberfest. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies today announced that it will offer optional hardware encryption on all of its new 2.5-inch disk drives, which are expected to ship at a rate of a million units per quarter in early 2007. The AES feature can be turned on or off at the buyer's request.

Hitachi's news followed Monday's announcement of new drives from Seagate Technology, which will not only offer hard drive encryption but also multi-factor authentication options that would make it impossible for unauthorized users to access any data on the hard drive. (See Seagate Unveils Encrypted Notebook Drive.)

And just two weeks ago, PC maker Lenovo began offering PCs with a built-in biometric device that lets users authenticate themselves to the hard drive via a fingerprint. (See Lenovo Uses Utimaco.)

"2007 will be the year for security on client devices," says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, an IT consultancy. "In the business space, performance isn’t the driver anymore, and security increasingly is. This will define the way many of the vendors compete next year."

On the surface, such advancements would seem to be a boon for businesses, which have been troubled with security breaches caused by lost laptops and other exploits that give attackers access to a single PC. In the coming year, the damage done by PC theft could be significantly reduced by built-in features that prevent thieves from accessing sensitive information on the devices they steal, experts say.

But for IT managers, the new capabilities could create administrative nightmares. Many IT departments are already deploying encryption software that performs many of the same functions now being built into disk drives, and most already have authentication technologies and processes that may not work with the technologies now rolling out from vendors like Seagate.

"Built-in security items will cause IT department headaches," says Richard Stiennon, founder of IT-Harvest, an IT consulting firm. "The enterprise would have to standardize on the new Seagate drives or be looking for hard drive encryption help for particular projects."

As a result, many IT organizations will probably forbid the use of the new security technologies, Stiennon says. But as users bring their own machines into the network, the compatibility problems could happen anyway.

Hitachi, Lenovo, and Seagate emphasized that their new security capabilities are optional, and can be turned off in cases where an enterprise has an alternative technology already in place.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (Hitachi GST)
  • Lenovo Group Ltd.
  • Seagate Technology Inc. (NYSE: STX)