Encryption & Data Recovery
CDR – Manchester Data Recovery Services – received this job in from a teacher in Shropshire. Understandably the school where the teacher was based had a policy requiring all staff to encrypt the devices they use for storing school work. These days that request does not seem unusual.
But a McAfee finger-print encrypted USB memory stick, with no administrator password backup – what could go wrong? From the teacher’s description we were told that it never seemed very reliable, often requiring multiple-swipes of a finger to unlock the device. However, the device had failed completely. In this case there was a mixture of physical and electronic damage to the printed circuit board of the memory stick.
Unlike other USB memory sticks it would not prove useful to remove the flash NAND chips and read the data directly using equipment like SoftCenter or PC3000 Flash, as this data would be encrypted. Consequently it was necessary to fault find the failed components on the PCB and replace these. Given that this device has significantly more components than a standard memory stick this process of fault finding can be challenging and time consuming.
Fortunately CDR was able to repair the device sufficiently to allow an attempt to unlock the device and decrypt the data. The only downside to this is that the because the device did not have a reserve administrator password and it was necessary for the teacher to make a 4 hour round car journey to visit in person so we could put her finger to good use! Fortunately it was not a wasted journey and a full recovery was made.
Encryption of devices is becoming more common. CDR regularly see Western Digital My Passport hard disk drives in for recovery. Most people don’t know it but these devices are likely to have encrypted the data in most cases using the “Smartware” functionality. Quite frankly we think that they are worth avoiding altogether.
Finally, perhaps also give thought to biometric only encrypted devices with no Administrator back-door to decryption and what might happen if say you had a similar experience to Terry Nutkins. Probably not worth thinking about actually.