Seagate drives hit by firmware glitch

Update risks 'bricked' hard disk.

A UK data recovery specialist has warned that users are still at risk from a firmware update from Seagate, which could leave their organisations with "bricked" hard disk drives (HDDs).

The Seagate firmware issue has been known for some months now, Indeed, UK-based DiskEng Data Recovery, said that it had been aware of the problem late last year, but since then it had seen "a massive rise in emergency data recovery cases." Admittedly, this was mostly during the first quarter, but DiskEng warns that it is still seeing cases of bricked Seagate HDDs.

According to DiskEng, the serious firmware issue concerns the 500GB to 1.5TB range of Seagate hard drives. These include the Barracuda 7200.11, Barracuda ES.2 SATA, and DiamondMax 22 drives, with firmware revisions SD15, SD16, SD17, SD18 and MX15.

Alkas Ali, a director at DiskEng, said the original problem with these HDDs is that the "firmware contains an event log (i.e. what it was doing last), which during a certain power cycle of the drive, causes the event log to point to an invalid location, a location that simply does not exist. This causes the drive to hang in a busy state, which the drive cannot come out off once triggered, and therefore the drive then remains inaccessible."

According to Ali, Seagate realised there was a problem and issued a firmware update to combat this problem. Unfortunately, the update left some working drives "bricked" (i.e. dead).

"We have had to recover data from these apparently damaged drives and also the ones that failed suddenly because of the firmware bug," said Ali. "What happened is that the firmware update was supposed to correct this problem, but ended up destroying the drive completely."

"Seagate then issued another firmware update, and this second update is fine," he said. But Ali warned that a problem can still occur because of the gap between updates, and people can still end up with bricked drives because they have failed to apply the second firmware update.

"This was an issue that surfaced quite some time ago, and we had posted information for customers on our website as well as on other industry sites to provide a fix," a Seagate spokesman said in an email. He pointed to a Seagate support site that allows users to determine if their hard disk is affected.

Ali admitted that the number of faulty drives has now fallen back to normal levels, thanks in part to Seagate releasing the corrective firmware, as well as offering a free data recovery service if anyone encountered this problem.

But he warned that Seagate's recovery service is too lengthy. He said that many businesses which typically use these HDDs in their servers, needed to recover the data within a single day. Seagate, said Ali, first needs to confirm that it is the firmware issue [that caused the fault] and that "takes time and takes clearance," in order for the drive to qualify for free data recovery.

Ali concedes that Seagate has done what they need to do, and that is why the trend has fallen back down again. But he feels there is still a risk for companies who don't know about the issue.

"Seagate have done right thing," he said. "But the damage has been done, and there are still hundreds of people sitting there with these drives at risk."

The good news is that the actual data on the drive does not get damaged, so in nearly all cases, the customer data is usually recoverable.

"Our advice to the general public is if you have this drive, before you upgrade the firmware, backup your critical data and then apply the firmware upgrade," he said. "It should work, but if it fails, you will still have your critical data."

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Tom Jowitt

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