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RootPrompt.org: Secure Deletion of Data from Magnetic and Solid-State Memory

May 24, 2000, 16:51 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Peter Gutmann)

[ Thanks to Noel for this link. ]

"With the use of increasingly sophisticated encryption systems, an attacker wishing to gain access to sensitive data is forced to look elsewhere for information. One avenue of attack is the recovery of supposedly erased data from magnetic media or random-access memory. This paper covers some of the methods available to recover erased data and presents schemes to make this recovery significantly more difficult."

"Faced with techniques such as MFM, truly deleting data from magnetic media is very difficult. ... In conventional terms, when a one is written to disk the media records a one, and when a zero is written the media records a zero. However the actual effect is closer to obtaining a 0.95 when a zero is overwritten with a one, and a 1.05 when a one is overwritten with a one. Normal disk circuitry is set up so that both these values are read as ones, but using specialised circuitry it is possible to work out what previous "layers" contained. The recovery of at least one or two layers of overwritten data isn't too hard to perform by reading the signal from the analog head electronics with a high-quality digital sampling oscilloscope, downloading the sampled waveform to a PC, and analysing it in software to recover the previously recorded signal."

"To erase magnetic media, we need to overwrite it many times with alternating patterns in order to expose it to a magnetic field oscillating fast enough that it does the desired flipping of the magnetic domains in a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, there is a complication in that we need to saturate the disk surface to the greatest depth possible, and very high frequency signals only "scratch the surface" of the magnetic medium. Disk drive manufacturers, in trying to achieve ever-higher densities, use the highest possible frequencies, whereas we really require the lowest frequency a disk drive can produce. Even this is still rather high. The best we can do is to use the lowest frequency possible for overwrites, to penetrate as deeply as possible into the recording medium."

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