Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers develop fail-safe techniques for erasing magnetic storage media

14.06.2006
Protecting sensitive data
After a U.S. intelligence-gathering aircraft was involved in a mid-air collision off the coast of China four years ago, the crew was unable to erase sensitive information from magnetic data storage systems before making an emergency landing in Chinese territory.

That event underscored the need for simple techniques to provide fail-safe destruction of sensitive data aboard such aircraft. Working with defense contractor L-3 Communications Corp., scientists at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed a series of prototype systems that use special high-strength permanent magnets to quickly erase a wide variety of storage media.

Developed so far for VHS tapes, floppy drives, data cassettes, and small computer hard drives, the techniques could also have commercial applications for banking, human resource and other industries that must also protect sensitive information.

"This is a very challenging problem," said Michael Knotts, a research scientist in the GTRI's Signature Technology Laboratory. "We had to verify that the data would be beyond all possible recovery even with unlimited budget and unlimited time. Commercial devices on the market for data erasure just couldn't fill the bill, because they were magnetically too weak, they were physically too large and heavy, or they didn't meet stringent air safety standards."

During the project, the researchers developed testing procedures that use a magnetic force microscope (MFM) – a variation on the atomic-force microscope (AFM) more commonly used to provide detailed images of surfaces at the nanometer scale. The MFM mapped the very small magnetic perturbations created by data stored on the media, helping determine how well data patterns had been destroyed.

"If you erase the data by whatever means, you should see a surface devoid of any specific pattern or periodicity," Knotts explained. "Our goal was to see a random distribution of magnetization that would indicate a clean disk."

During the three-year project, Knotts and collaborators Don Creyts, Dave Maybury, Candy Ekangaki, and Tedd Toler explored a broad range of possible destruction techniques, including burning diskettes with heat-generating thermite materials, crushing drives in presses and chemically destroying the media.

The researchers had to select techniques and equipment that would:

  • Be light enough for aircraft use and operate independently of aircraft electrical systems;
  • Be mechanically simple to ensure reliable operation;
  • Produce no harmful gases or flame;
  • Provide mechanisms to prevent inadvertent erasure.

During their first year of work, the researchers learned that data could remain on diskettes that had been subjected to high heat, and had to abandon thermal destruction techniques because of the fire and harmful gases they generated. That left only magnetic techniques.

In developing techniques for complete erasure, the researchers first had to learn how different data storage drives operate, then assess the magnetic field levels necessary for complete erasure. To do that, they obtained a number of commercially-available micro-drives, cut the media into sections, subjected them to varying magnetic fields, and then tested the sections with the MFM.

"We had to understand how the data is laid out on the disk so we could know where to look for the patterns, and we had to do a lot of measurements to determine exactly what kind of magnetic field is needed to destroy all data," said Knotts. "We had to do a lot of destructive testing to determine that, and our lab is littered with the carcasses of dead hard drives to prove it."

Producing a magnetic field sufficient to destroy data patterns required the use of neodymium iron-boron magnets custom-designed for the project and special pole pieces made of esoteric cobalt alloys. The magnets, which weigh as much as 125 pounds, had to produce fields sufficient to penetrate metallic housings that surround some drives.

"We developed models for magnetic circuits that we could run through optimization codes to design the best shape to get the field that we needed," Knotts said. "It takes quite a magnetic field to get through the steel enclosures on some of the drives. We are producing magnetic fields comparable to those used in magnetic resonance imaging equipment, so these are not your ordinary refrigerator magnets."

Mechanically, the researchers faced challenges in reliably moving data storage devices through the magnetic fields. In some cases, aircraft crews would simply insert removable media into a motorized mechanism that pushes them past the magnets, while for other media, crews would have to twist a knob and pull drives out of their enclosures and through a magnetic field. To prevent accidental erasure, each technique requires several deliberate steps.

With success in erasing removable media and small hard drives, the researchers are moving onto a final phase of the project, which will involve large computer hard drives partially encased in thick steel caddies.

Beyond Department of Defense applications, the magnetic erasure techniques could have applications to the commercial world, where banks, human resource agencies and other organizations must ensure complete destruction of data in computer equipment being discarded.

Knotts admits he'll be a bit sad to see the project end.

"This was certainly an unusual project," he said. "It's not often that we get paid to crush equipment in presses, blow things up and set off fires in microwave ovens."

John Toon | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.gatech.edu

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Controlling robots with brainwaves and hand gestures
20.06.2018 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology, CSAIL

nachricht Innovative autonomous system for identifying schools of fish
20.06.2018 | IMDEA Networks Institute

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene assembled film shows higher thermal conductivity than graphite film

22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle

22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences

Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

22.06.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>