As a senior research and development engineer at Kroll Ontrack, my team and I have seen many new trends and challenges over the past year. Following on from these, we have taken a look at the future for technology and how this will affect data recovery. Here are some of the key changes and trends we can look forward to in 2015.
1. Data loss from mobile devices
During 2014, I worked with our team of research and development engineers to complete a project aimed at developing a recovery solution for Apple mobile devices. These devices present a particular challenge to data recovery due to the hardware encryption of the data stored within the memory chips of the device. Our commitment to the development of this capability is borne from a recognition that data loss from all types of mobile device will continue to increase in 2015 as they have done in recent years.
2. Firmware updates – a necessary evil
Periodic firmware updates are a double-edged sword; whilst necessary to enhance the device’s security against new threats and to add new features and capabilities, the firmware update process itself is a risk. Permanent memory that contains the old firmware version must be erased whilst firmware runs in temporary memory until the new firmware is programmed into the permanent memory. If power to the device is interrupted or the update process fails halfway through this can “brick” the device making stored data inaccessible. Our team have developed recovery solutions to deal with bricked devices from external encrypting hard drives to mobile devices. As users become more security aware they will want to proactively keep the firmware of their devices up to date, increasing the data loss risks associated with the process.
3. Internet of Things (IoT)
It has been generally accepted for some time now that there are many benefits to having household devices and appliances permanently connected to the Internet. In 2014, we saw the introduction of intelligent home heating controllers that can be controlled over the internet from a mobile phone. We also saw a Russian website publishing the live video streams from thousands of internet-connected security cameras from all over the world. Whilst many of these IoT devices do not themselves hold data of any particular interest to hackers, an insecure IoT device can provide a “hackers’ gateway” to other inadequately-protected devices on the same network, with an increased risk of data theft and data loss.
Many devices now natively encrypt data sometimes without the knowledge of the user and encryption presents an additional challenge to the recovery of data from these devices when they go wrong. The team at Kroll Ontrack have worked on the development of decryption-on-the-fly tools has significantly reduced the time needed to recover user data from failed encrypting devices and we see this as being a key requirement in 2015.
5. Solid State Drives (SSDs)
The adoption of solid state drives continues to increase as drives become more reliable and affordable, but will not completely replace hard drives for at least the next few years. Flash-based technology is going through constant change and development of data recovery solutions for new solid-state designs is needed to keep ahead of the challenges.
6. Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR)
Using heat from a laser in conjunction with the magnetic field used to write data to a magnetic medium is the principle behind HAMR which can very effectively increase the number of magnetic data “bits” that can be squeezed onto the surface of a hard disk platter. The technology has been in development for some time but scientists have reported significant progress leading to predictions that HAMR drives will become commercially available in 2015.
7. Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR)
On a hard disk platter, magnetic data is written to tracks; concentric circles that fill the surface from the inner to the outer diameter of the disk. Reducing the width of the write element used to write the tracks helps to squeeze in more tracks but the width of the track is greater than is actually needed during reading.
SMR overlaps tracks on the disk surface, effectively trimming tracks that have already been written and therefore squeezing more data onto the disk surface. The drawback of this approach is that neighbouring tracks must be managed together in a group. When a change to the data in one trimmed track is needed all the tracks within that group must also be rewritten; simply re-writing a track with new data would result in the loss of the tracks either side.
SMR drives are already available and adoption is set to increase during 2015, particularly finding applications in mid- to long-term archiving as well as in the desktop computer storage market.