How Encryption And SSDs Can Make Data Recovery Harder

Don’t get us wrong: encryption is a sensible strategy for protecting private data and switching to a solid-state drive (SSD) provides impressive performance benefits. However, both approaches make the task of recovering data in the event of an emergency much more difficult.

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I caught up last week with Adrian Briscoe, APAC general manager for data recovery service Kroll Ontrack. Much of the impetus for data recovery activity is driven by natural disasters; for example, Kroll Ontrack’s US operations are still working through recovery operations associated with Hurricane Sandy. While that activity can’t be predicted, the shift towards encryption across a range of platforms and the increasing use of SSDs does make the task of retrieving data in the event of a hardware failure or natural disaster much more difficult. “With the development of encryption techniques, we are seeing more challenges with people recovering data,”

The difficulty with encryption isn’t so much when companies make a conscious choice to encrypt confidential data, but when encryption is added routinely to basic hardware elements. For instance, Western Digital drives now routinely utilise a hardware encryption bridge, which makes data recovery more complicated.

An obvious manifestation of the problem is on Apple’s iPhone platform, which both encrypts data and uses a non-conventional file system. That means in practical terms that once a file has been erased on a working iPhone, it’s virtually impossible to retrieve it, Briscoe said.

With SSDs, the difficulty is that failure of an individual chip can make recovering data across the entire drive much more time consuming. By Kroll Ontrack’s reckoning, recovering a single SSD can be more complex than recovering a 16-drive RAID array.

The key lesson? When you adopt new technologies, especially for work use, you need to ensure you have a plan for how you’re going to recover that information in an emergency. Whatever the platform, that starts with the basics: a proper continuous backup plan.


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