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Solid security with solid-state flash disks.

A Nightmare Come True

On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane, EP-3E ARIES (Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System) was forced to make an emergency landing in China during what the U.S. Navy described as a "routine" patrol flight. The EP-3E ARIES contained a gold mine of surveillance software and technology, second only to satellite surveillance equipment. Flying within Chinese radar range, the aircraft was able to track transmissions from the radar facility to its command post and send them on to a central operations center.

In an emergency, crew members were instructed to erase classified data and software from hard drives and destroy CD-ROMs, floppy disks and key pieces of equipment such as cryptographic systems. They had between 12 and 20 minutes in the air to do this, and approximately 12 minutes after landing to complete the task. U.S. officials said that in the final moments, the crew might have taken hammers and axes to the hardware.

How much the crew destroyed is not clear. However, the potential damage to the collaborative intelligence effort is. If the Chinese managed to access top-secret equipment, they might have been able to deprive Americans of a power-lift advantage in wartime. Access to cryptographic keys, intelligence databases and classified computer codes poses the largest security threat. But there may have been no electricity to degauss, or erase, this type of information.

Clearing, Sanitizing and Destroying

This true account illustrates the critical importance of using storage media that can erase sensitive information quickly and completely, while being robust enough to withstand harsh environments. U.S. security agencies, including the DoD (Department of Defense) and the NSA (National Security Agency), use the following terms to define levels for erasing sensitive data from various media:

* Clearing: Eradicating data on the media before it is reused in an environment with an acceptable protection level.

* Sanitizing (also called purging): Removing data on the media before it is reused in an environment without acceptable protection. Sanitizing mechanical disks and magnetic tapes requires a degausser (demagnetizer) or disintegrating, incinerating, pulverizing, shredding or smelting.

* Destroying: Physically damaging the media to make data retrieval impossible.

Solid-State Flash Disks: Hard Drive Benefits without the Risks

Flash disks are solid state with no moving parts, eliminating seek time, latency and other electro-mechanical delays inherent in mechanical hard disks. Flash disks provide rugged, maintenance-free data storage within military and aerospace systems, delivering significantly higher reliability, than rotating mechanical disks. The flash industry's version of Moore's law--flash density doubles within the same silicon footprint every 12 months--is sharply reducing flash costs.

To provide true "drop-in replacements" for mechanical disks, flash disks must have identical dimensions, mounting holes and interfaces. Figure 1 illustrates the most common flash disk form factors: 2.5" (for laptops) with IDE/ATA and narrow SCSI interfaces, and 3.5" (for desktops) with narrow and wide SCSI interlaces.

Enhanced Security

Some flash disk vendors provide data security features that do not require degaussing or disk destruction to ensure that data is permanently erased. This makes procedures quicker, easier and more cost-effective. M-Systems' solid-state Fast Flash Disk (FFD[TM]) family provides all the features described below, complying with the NSA, DoD, Air Force, Army and Navy sanitization processes for flash NAND EEPROM.

Fast Secure Erase erases the entire disk in between

10 to 60 seconds, depending on its capacity. NAND flash technology, "burning" data into the silicon to perform read/write and erase operations, ensures that erased data cannot be retrieved. In contrast, magnetic technology retains some original data even after 20 overwrites. Fast Secure Erase can be activated remotely or locally to erase data, for instance, from UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) during missions.

Selective Fast Secure Erase enables the user to erase only sensitive data. This ensures disk readiness without reinstalling the operating system. The user can partition the disk into up to eight different areas and decide which to erase.

Auto-Resume Security Erase ensures that a Fast Secure Erase halted by power loss before completion is automatically completed when power is restored. This is essential during emergencies when the power supply is usually unstable.

Sanitize (Purge) sanitizes NAND flash with disk erase, same character fill and random data fill, using U.S. government-specified sequences. Bad blocks are repeatedly erased (strong erasure) to guarantee total sanitization.


Sanitizing mechanical disks and magnetic tapes requires special degaussers, stable power conditions and ample time--all of which may be lacking in an emergency. Solid-state flash disks sanitize the disk in seconds. They are ragged, providing top data reliability even in the harshest conditions. As flash densities increase, their costs continue to decrease. With these benefits, flash disk implementation is on the rise. In addition to the Raytheon example above, other applications include data recorders, moving maps, sonar, radar, fire control systems, black boxes, reconnaissance and surveillance systems, rugged laptops, tactical computers and servers ill air forces, navies and armies.
            Category                     Mechanical Disk

Environmental    Operating               +5[degrees]C to +55[degrees]C
Specifications   Temperature Range
                 Non-Operating           -40[degrees]C to +70[degrees]C
                 Temperature Range
                 Operating Shock         20G1-25G
                 Operating Vibration     1G (22-500Hz)
                 Humidity                5%-90%
                 Operating Altitude      15,000 ft
                 Acoustics, Idle/Ready   2.9 (Bels)
Environmental    MIL-STD 810             Does not comply
Standards        NEBS: GR-63-CORE        Does not comply
                 & GR-1089-CORE
Reliability      Actual/Fielded MTBF     <70,000
Performance      Average Seek            7.0-3.0msec
                 Average Latency         5.0-2.0msec
                 Sustained Read Rate     15.0-50.0MB/s
                 Sustained Write Rate    10.0-40.0MB/s
Power            Power Idle              5.0-0.8 Watts
                 Power Read/Write        10.0-5.0 Watts
Security         Delete disk data in     Does not comply.
                 emergency without       Need for degaussers
                 retrieving the data     or
                                         total destruction
Capacity         3.5" Form Factor        40GB-200GB
                 2.5" Form Factor        2OGB-60GB
Cost             Procurement             $70-$600

Category         Solid-State Flash Disk

Environmental    -40[degrees]C to +85[degrees]C
                 -55[degrees]C to +95[degrees]C
                 16G (20-2000Hz)
                 80,000 ft
Environmental    Complies, MIL-STD 810F
Standards        Complies, NEBS Level 3
Reliability      >700,000
Performance      0.5-0.02msec
                 1.0-0.035 Watts
Power            3.0-0.325 Watts
Security         Complies
                 - Fast Secure Erase
                 - Sanitize (Purge)
Capacity         128MB-100GB
Cost             <$600/GByte

Ofer Tsur is Marketing Manager/or M-Systems, 7 Atir Yeda St. Kfar Saba 44425, Israel; He can be contacted at + 972-9-7645125;

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Title Annotation:Special feature: military electronics
Author:Tsur, Ofer
Publication:ECN-Electronic Component News
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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