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I wonder if WD Drive Lock ineed encrypts the data on a Western Digital My Book Essential device or just puts a firmware-level password on the device. If it's just a password the data surely could be retrieved by a third party. I could not find anything on about that on user manuals.

I found a blog saying "data is secured with AES256" bla bla but that doesn't say anything about if the password could be compromised or not. Because I don't see any delays when I add/remove the password. On the other hand when I enable BitLocker, it takes hours before it encrypts everything with my password.

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I'm guessing here, but I think it's a firmware level password, for the reasons you state. I've plugged in a drive that is protected and the data looks like garbage. – user3463 Feb 22 '11 at 21:39
Why is the downvote? – Sedat Kapanoglu Feb 26 '12 at 13:33

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

No encryption, it locks the hard drive so data cannot be accessed, this is done by a chip on the hard drive controller board, they are very hard to break into if you do not have the password, some makes/models are impossible even by data recovery/crack experts.

The stronger the password the harder it is to crack it.

If you put the locked drive into another PC it cannot be unlocked even if you have the password.

Some laptops provide a utility to lock a hard disk with a password. These passwords are not the same as BIOS passwords. Moving a locked hard disk to another machine will not unlock it, since the hard disk password is stored in the hard disk firmware and moves with the hard disk. Also, adding a new (unlocked) hard disk to a locked machine may cause the new hard disk to become locked. Also, note that hard disk lock passwords cannot be removed by reformatting the disk, fdisk or any other software procedure (since the disk will not allow and reads or writes to the disk, it cannot be reformatted.) Usually, the BIOS password and hard disk lock passwords are set the same by a user and we can recover the BIOS password directly from the laptop security chip (after it is removed from the system board.) However, it is possible that the BIOS password and hard disk lock passwords may be set different. In this case the BIOS password will not unlock the hard disk.

. Source

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it locks the hard drive so data cannot be accessed, this is done by a chip on the hard drive controller board --- So if you replace the hard drive controller board you can easily access the data? – pabouk Feb 2 '14 at 0:09

To set the record straight for future readers, it is poor security without encryption. In theory you could simply remove the disk platters and place them in a different drive to read the data. You don't need to know the password then.

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Simply moving the disk platters would be non trivial. I guess you could swap controller boards with another drive of the same model may be an option. Alas, testing this for science would be rather annoyingly expensive. – Journeyman Geek Feb 1 '14 at 23:48

This may be no longer true. The bits on the platters are encrypted with a random key once generated by the firmware and stored in the controller electronics. So if you exchange the platters or the drive electronics you have no chance to recover the original data (Backup becomes even more important in this case). The user password is simply used to encrypt/lock the drive internal random key. If you cannot unlock the drive electronics to enable access (only for the drive electronics) to the random key and decrypt it, all data is lost! Or safe as you like to see it.

So you can very easily securely erase a hard drive by simply forgetting this random key. You no longer can decrypt the real data on the sectors.

See also SED (Self Encrypting Devices) on Hardware-based full disk encryption and the chapter "Disk Sanitization".

Here is also an article by about the WD Security Feature: Festplatten mit eingebauter Verschlüsselung

It is in german but may be Google Translate can help you.

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Do you have any references you can point us to if we wanted to verify that information? – Scott Chamberlain Nov 26 '14 at 22:54

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