Seagate's encrypted hard drive gets security boost

FIPS 140-2 approval to help sales to US government

Seagate's Momentus Self-Encrypting Drive (SED) has become the first encrypted laptop hard drive to get the critical FIPS 140-2 certification that the company hopes will finally help boost its sales to US and Canadian government organisations.

Normally, FIPS 140-2 is just another important check box for security products that want a slice of the government market, but right now the stakes seem higher for the Momentus.

As the company itself admits, sales of self-encrypting laptop hard drives have been modest at around 1 million units since the drive's release in 2006. That sounds like a lot of drives, but the equivalent of barely quarter of a million drives per year is a miniscule number when set against sales of non-encrypted hard drives, which number hundreds of millions in a year.

"The low-hanging fruit will be the military," said Seagate's Momentus SED product marketing manager, Joni Clark. Having NIST-approved certification was essential for procurement in this space, she said.

Achieving FIPS 140-2 after a three-year process would also help the SED in business markets as well as with foreign governments and public sector organisations, fired by an increased interest in self-encrypting drives for insecure devices such as laptops.

"There is work to do in the sector but adoption is coming," she said.

Seagate has been pushing hard with self-encrypting hard drives, forging a partnership with Dell in 2009 to help shift self-encrypting hard drives for more mainstream use, including by business laptop users.

NIST FIPS 140-2 won't be enough on its own; the company also needs other drive vendors to embrace the self-encryption technology.

Despite being a hard drive with onboard encryption, one complication that might have helped slow take-up by rival vendors is the need to integrate third-party management systems with the drive firmware. Seagate's environment for doing this is called DriveTrust.

Things have improved on the front since the drive's 2006 launch - there are now several completing management systems to choose from - but the real boost will come when other hardware vendors offer a separate path for buying drives themselves.

"When you are a sole source some see this as a weakness," admitted Clark.

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