S'pore company makes hard disks harder to crack

ST Electronics plans new portable hard disk enclosure that uses a combination of security features to repel data thieves.

Singapore-based security systems provider ST Electronics has developed a device that combines real-time hardware encryption with smartcard authentication to protect hard disk data.

The DiskCrypt Mobile - Click for larger image

In a press statement issued Thursday, the Singapore company said that it will be showcasing the device at the CEBIT tradeshow in Hanover, Germany.

Called the DiskCrypt Mobile, the portable device looks like an external USB enclosure for 2.5-inch hard drives but features an integrated hardware-based encryption module with a keypad and smartcard reader.

The encryption module acts as the connecting interface between a computer's USB port and the attached storage unit, and uses Triple DES algorithm to encrypt every byte and sector of data that is written into a hard disk with minimal loss in disk performance, ST Electronics claimed.

To gain access to the encrypted data, users need to undergo a two-factor authentication process.

Two-factor authentication is a security measure routinely used by the military and government agencies, and uses two checks to protect a system instead of a single password verification.

DiskCrypt Mobile owners are issued a smart card, as well as a password or secret personal identification number (PIN) to protect against unauthorized access.

As part of its security feature, the DiskCrypt Mobile tries to authenticate the user each time it is plugged into the USB port of a host PC. The user will be prompted to insert the smartcard and key in the correct PIN on the unit's keypad. Once the verification process is successful, the hard disk becomes accessible.

Data breach and privacy legislation have made security a business issue for some storage device makers. Last year, hard drive manufacturer Seagate introduced a line of hard disks with built-in full-disk encryption technology, designed to make life tougher for computer thieves.

ST Electronics will start shipping two versions of the DiskCrypt Mobile in May this year. A unit with a 64-bit encryption module is expected to retail for US$99 while a 192-bit version will go for US$209.