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Fatal Security Flaws Discovered in Solid State Drives

Researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands have released a paper highlighting several security flaws that they’ve discovered in SSDs which mean that data from a flash disk can recovered in more than one way, even if it’s supposedly self-encrypted.

What Is An SSD?

An SSD is a solid-state storage device that uses integrated circuit assemblies (memory chips on a circuit board with and In/Out interface to feed power and transfer data) as memory to store data persistently. Even though it doesn’t actually contain a physical disk, it is sometimes called a called solid-state disk.

Hardware Encryption Not Better Than Software Encryption

Whereas the popular belief is that AES encryption should stop you from accessing data on a disc that isn’t plugged in to its home system (encryption with SSD through ATA security and TCG Opal encryption methods) and that hardware encryption is similar to or better than software encryption, the findings of the research appear to disprove this.

Not Just Cheap Drives Vulnerable

The research looked at top-of-the-range drives including models by Crucial and Samsung, and found that only the T3 and T5 (external) drives remained secure, whereas the others were found to have fatal vulnerabilities, some to non-cryptographic hacking. Even BitLocker, the Microsoft encryption with each copy of Windows was found to be vulnerable. According to the research, vulnerabilities are such, across the range of vendors, that determined attackers could access data in many so-called encrypted drives without any keys or passwords.

Vulnerable to a Range Attack Methods

Through the reverse-engineering of the firmware of a sample of SSDs, the researchers were able to discover a number of vulnerabilities in self-encrypting SSDs that can leave them open to a range of attacks and exploits. These could include attackers seizing full control of the CPU, corrupting memory, and cracking default passwords, thereby bypassing a custom password set by a user.

Example

The researchers provided a case study of how an attacker could try to breach a locked Crucial MX300 drive with encryption via TCG Opal. The case study outlines how an attacker could install modified firmware that includes read/write capabilities, and then, if encryption is performed via TCG Opal, write executable code to bypass several layers of security, and thereby access the precious data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The discovery by the researchers shows that hardware-based encryption is far less secure than businesses may have thought and that hardware-based full-disk encryption may not, in fact, be a more secure alternative to software-based methods. Also, it seems that the security flaws are in leading products across multiple vendors.

Businesses may, therefore, be best advised not to rely solely on hardware encryption as offered by SSDs for confidentiality. In fact, it may be better to also employ an open source, audited, software full-disk encryption solution.

As well as alerting businesses to the risks of relying solely on the apparently flawed hardware encryption offered by SSDs, this story should surely make vendors take another close look at their SSD products and how the security of them can be improved.