Twin-head HDD designed to keep out hackers

Hackers will be unable to attack Web sites protected by a new security system unless they can change the laws of physics, according to Naoto Takano, chief executive officer of Scarabs Corp., a Japanese venture in Chiba Prefecture.

The company claims that it has developed a hard disk drive (HDD) with two heads that prevents disk files published on the Web from being altered by hackers.

Scarabs put two heads on a HDD, a read-only head that is connected via one cable to a Web server for people to browse content on the disk file and a read/write head that is connected by another cable to a PC for administrators who renew the data. Internet users have access to the disk file only through the read-only head and so there is no physical way they can go into the system and rewrite the data.

The original idea of a HDD having two heads emerged around 1985, when Takano was a scientific researcher. Analysis of data took a long time because all the data needed to be written to a drive before it could be read out again. If the HDD was fitted with a read-only head, which could start reading data for analysis while the read/write head was still writing data on the disk, analysis could be done faster. At that time, however, the idea was never implemented.

"I realized about three to four years ago, this could be used for server system security on the Internet," Takano said.

The company succeeded in making a prototype last December. Since then, it has been showing real-time video streaming images on the Web.

In the prototype, each head works independently, and as long as both the Internet server and the internal company PC are running operating systems which can read the same disk format, it could run on any operating system, Takano said. The prototype currently works on Windows NT4.0 CD-ROM running ASP (Active Server Pages) and IIS (Internet Information Services), Takano said.

It costs around ¥100,000 (US$863) to build the simplest version of this system, Takano said.

Scarabs is also working on a different version of the technology -- instead of putting two heads on a HDD, the company is connecting two SCSI interface circuits to a conventional HDD with one head, one set to send read-only electronic signals and the other to send read/write signals.

"From an end user's point of view, the electronic implementation is more complicated but the professionals and vendors are more interested in this method. We have approached three vendors so far and hopefully, will be able to start sample shipping within this year," Takano said.

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