Could this low-tech hacking technique speed flash adoption?

sound waves might interrupt hard disk drive storage

Posted on Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The end of hard disk drive technology has long been prophesied. Most analysts believe that the significant performance benefits of flash memory will cause most businesses to migrate away from traditional spinning disks.

Until recently, the price-per-gigabyte of flash has been prohibitively expensive, meaning that only the most important applications are run on all-flash arrays (AFAs). Other, secondary operations are still hosted on traditional magnetic disk arrays. In most cases, the transition to AFA is piecemeal, replacing legacy systems as manufacturers withdraw support.

The sonic challenge

Security researchers have identified a new technique that can be used to “crash” hard disk drives. By hijacking the internal mechanisms used to prevent damage to disk platters, it is possible to stop a drive spinning completely.

According to the report’s author, Alfredo Ortega, directing sound at a specific frequency will cause platters to shake. At 130Hz, the shaking triggers a built-in protection mechanism, causing the disk to shut down completely.

In theory, hackers may be able to take complete arrays offline without ever gaining physical access to the data center, and without installing any malware. In many respects, this could be the ultimate low-tech hijacking technique.

Simple to protect against

At present, Ortega’s technique remains theoretical – the necessary conditions have not been replicated outside a lab. The general background noise generated by an enterprise class data center may create sufficient interference to cancel out a 130Hz signal for instance. The soundproofing and insulation materials used to construct data centers offer additional protection too.

In all probability, the 130Hz sonic attack will only work if the hacker can generate a signal inside the data center. Which has to be at least as difficult as breaching defences electronically.

Spinning disk arrays live on

Cutting through the FUD, sonic attacks represent an almost negligible risk to your data center. There is certainly no good reason to order an immediate replacement of all spinning disk arrays.

Which means that you can continue with your current migration/upgrade strategy – including leaving older arrays in place for secondary operations.

To learn more about the future of your magnetic disk storage arrays, please give us a call.

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