Information Security Asked by user238815 on November 21, 2021
Imagine you are carrying highly sensitive information with you, maybe on a mission in a war zone. You get in an ambush and quickly need to erase all the files before they fall in the wrong hands. This has to happen within seconds.
What devices are used for such operations, are there special hard drives which have a physical switch to erase all memory at once? I’m thinking of active storage devices, which lose all information once the power supply is separated.
Addendum 1: As Artem S. Tashkinov pointed out in his answer, for most use cases encryption is enough. But I think there is information so valuable, that even in 50 years, when quantum code breaking may become a reality, it can be harmful. So I edited my question to ask explicitly for a method, which does not leave any way, as computationally hard it may be, to recover any data. I guess this is only possible by physically destroying the components, which hold the information.
I watched the linked Defcon talks (2012 and 2015) and just wanted to summarize my key takeaways, which surprisingly no other answer has done before:
If on the other hand you choose your storage medium explicitly for fast destruction, it's pretty easy:
Answered by Nobody on November 21, 2021
The framing of this question is just completely wrong, and I'd go so far as to suggest the question doesn't belong on Security SE but Worldbuilding SE if you're trying to make up a world where it does make sense. You don't carry sensitive information in cleartext, and you don't destroy media to make information inaccessible. You make proper use of encryption, and you either don't carry the key at all, or destroy the key in emergency rather than destroying the media the (potentially large) data is stored on.
The updates to the question about encryption are just wrong as well. "Torture to get the key" is not an issue because the key is not something small enough to be something you know. Either you don't possess it at all, or you possess it in a form that's easily destroyed (e.g. soluble or ingestable paper). There are plenty of forms of encryption which are not even theoretically susceptible to QC, and even for ones that are, most of the susceptibility is "theoretical" in that it relies on abstract mathematical objects that almost surely can never exist in reality. (But if you don't believe me on this last point, just choose something post-quantum.)
Answered by R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE on November 21, 2021
12 gauge slug round. Mill a slot in the leading face of the slug, just large enough to hold a microSD card. If you need to destroy the data, fire the slug against a hard surface. The SD card will impact the surface edgewise and in turn be impacted by the slug. If you keep this round chambered the data can be destroyed in a fraction of a second.
For extra certainty, use a custom slug which incorporates a disc of hardened material as its base.
Answered by Crash Gordon on November 21, 2021
Nitric acid injection
Nitric acid dissolves the platters which destroys any information contained within. A device to inject nitric acid directly between the platters could work by pushing it through the platter bearing.
Answered by Gensys LTD on November 21, 2021
Encryption is the way to go. But you want to destroy the data spectacularily.
Break the HDD platters manually.
A lot of disks can be run with the cover removed (or better yet, replaced with something easier to penetrate and still dust-proof). You may just use something hard (even a finger if you are brave) and break the platters.
Answered by fraxinus on November 21, 2021
1 TB MicroSD card and a blender
The best way is to physically destroy the data. A 1TB MicroSD card probably has enough storage for what you need, if not get multiple.
If you have it stored in a small self-powered blender (battery operated, or perhaps something more redundant than just batteries) you can immediately blend the MicroSD cards and turn them to basically dust. At this point it should not be feasible to recover any data.
Some methods such as magnetic erasing hard drives, shooting them etc may have some amount of recoverable media left. I would think it is less likely to recover the leftover MicroSD card dust.
Answered by H. Daun on November 21, 2021
Some of HPE's SmartArray RAID controllers (for instance, the P408i) support transparent disk encryption. One of the supported configuration modes involves keys that are only ever stored in a protected, volatile, on-chip data buffer. If you pull power to the system, the keys are gone for good and the data they protected is inaccessible. One of their sales engineers told us this mode was specifically made for your exact scenario, and he called it "embassy mode" (meaning if your embassy was under attack, you could pull one plug and destroy all your classified data before the enemy could get to it).
You could also go old-school. Encrypt your data using a one-time pad (uncrackable, even with infinite computational resources) and store the pad on nitrocellulose paper. Get in trouble and the nitrocellulose will burn in a matter of seconds. If you're merely transporting the data and don't need to access it yourself, then send the data and pad separately. The enemy would have to intercept both in order to steal your data. Don't send the pad until after you have confirmation that the data arrived safely. If the encrypted data gets intercepted, re-encrypt it using a new pad and try again. Alternatively, using a pre-shared pad means the pad is never in transit at all and thus there's no opportunity to intercept it.
Answered by bta on November 21, 2021
I love the straightforward logic in some of the other answers. Want data to definitely not fall into the wrong hands? Blow it up. I recognise that your question is looking for answers stronger than "encrypt it" but I do think there are some software based encoding ideas that can complement "blow it up" to make even surer that the secret is kept secret.
The fundamental idea is to ensure as much as possible that even if only a fraction of the data gets destroyed, such leftover signal as could still be recovered cannot be interpreted.
So, here's a few additional thoughts:
These all work together to reassure even the most paranoid intelligence operative that they will be able to destroy their data when it counts. Do be advised, however, when the data gets to the technician at the other end for the wonderful chore of decoding it... you'd better hope they're not licensed to kill!
Answered by Josiah on November 21, 2021
HDD’s with glass platters are common. All you need to do is make sure that your data is stored on one of them, and, in an emergency, chuck it at the ground really hard. This will shatter the platters and make recovery virtually untenable, especially if combined with encryption. If you have a gun, putting a couple of rounds into the drive will reduce them to powder.
If you have specially designed drives, you could likely integrate a small explosive charge that would disintegrate the platters without even breaching the container (much safer than thermite).
A neat concept I’d be curious about I’d if it would be possible to use an acoustic attack. In this paper they demonstrate that you can interfere with the platters of a drive using its resonance frequency. It may be possible to build in an acoustic device that, when powered on, shatters the glass platters.
Edit: an even better answer occurs to me.
The tiny size of a microSD card offers even more possibilities. Crush it to powder between two rocks. Melt it with a cigarette lighter. Shoot it. Hell, if you want a chance at retrieving it, swallow it, or find a patch of dirt and shove it in. The chances of anyone being able to find it are minuscule. Anecdotally, aside from corroded contacts, data on a microSD card that passes through the digestive system is recoverable.
Answered by Daniel B on November 21, 2021
There are two DEFCON videos from 2012 and 2015 exploring this exact issue:
In essence, your only viable methods are physical destruction
Answered by Slava Knyazev on November 21, 2021
It used to be possible to buy CPU chips with a built-in PROM that would be destroyed on contact with the atmosphere, the idea being to prevent someone from reverse engineering the code that had been burned into the PROM by opening the package and examining the state of fusible links with a microscope. (I once had the pleasure of working with an engineer who reverse-engineered satellite dish video cipher decoders using just that method.)
Answered by Robb Smith on November 21, 2021
Use one of those small form factor M.2 SSDs and find a way to mount it so it can be removed easily. Note that this may need custom development, because I don't know of any modern tools that allow this. However, if you're on a mission in an active war zone carrying highly dangerous information, you probably got a team that can figure something out. Militaries around the world have been working on emergency data disposal for ages. When you're in trouble, pull it out of the drive bay and destroy it with whatever tools you got handy (gun, steel tipped boots, maybe even your bare hands,...). AFAIK it's not possible to recover any data from an SSD that has had the memory modules physically broken.
Answered by Nzall on November 21, 2021
RAM is cool in that it is volatile memory. This essentially means that once power is cut, all data is lost completely and can never be recovered - essentially, this irreversibly and reliably wipes all the information instantly and does so in a way that cannot be stopped.
Not only is this data irrecoverable, but this method does not include any physical destruction of components and could even be implemented with a dead-man's trigger (i.e. something like a grenade pin that, when removed, cuts the power to the RAM disk to wipe it).
Answered by Daniel H. on November 21, 2021
Thermite burns at a temperature of thousands of degrees centigrade, which would be more than sufficient to destroy all the data stored in any modern data storage medium. It is also already used by militaries for the targeted destruction of equipment. Additionally, according to Wikipedia:
For example, thermite can be used for the emergency destruction of cryptographic equipment when there is a danger that it might be captured by enemy troops.
Answered by nick012000 on November 21, 2021
If you trust encryption then you could encrypt your entire drive using
As soon as you physically switch off the device, all the information turns into random noise which no one will be able to recover unless he/she has the decryption key. However, this method has a major shortcoming: your adversary will know you've got encrypted data and they may force you to spill your secrets.
As for Linux LUKS: if you wipe the first megabyte block of your encrypted partition, the data can no longer be recovered under any circumstances even if you know the key.
If you don't want the adversary to even suspect anything you could use VeraCrypt or DiskCryptor (formerly TrueCrypt) which can create hidden encrypted partitions/containers, but those still can be discovered given enough persistence.
Lastly I'd personally do the following under these circumstances given you have a satellite connection available:
Run the entire system off a live Linux CD and store the data in an encrypted cloud (private or commercial). In this case the adversary will never even be able to deduct anything from your e.g. laptop which may contain a run-of-the-mill Windows OS with pictures of cats.
Also take a look at:
Answered by Artem S. Tashkinov on November 21, 2021
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