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Nero Fiddles With Optical Security

German startup looks to lock down CD, DVD data to avoid future storage snafus

As user unease about lost media continues, German software startup Nero today took the wraps off a technology it claims will secure optically stored data. (See Nero's SecurDisc Debuts.)

Nero's move comes at a time when CIOs and IT managers are under massive pressure to prevent embarrassing security breaches that have dogged the likes of Time Warner and Iron Mountain. (See A Tale of Lost Tapes, Iron Mountain Keeps Truckin', and Pundits Ponder Potential Pitfalls.) Just as vendors such as Decru and Neoscale have used encryption to protect data on backup tapes, so Nero is looking to do the same with optical storage. (See Decru, Sepaton Team and NeoScale Faces Up to 4-Gig Encryption.)

At the CES show in Las Vegas this week, the startup unveiled its SecurDisk product, which execs claim can prevent unauthorized access to data on CDs and DVDs. The idea behind SecurDisk is that users can run AES 128-bit encryption on their optical media via storage devices and DVD writers, and implement passwords to prevent unauthorized access.

A number of software vendors, such as Symantec, are already playing in this space, although Charly Lippoth, Nero's CTO, told Byte and Switch that his firm is adding a hardware element to its software story.

To better lock down data, Nero is looking for vendors of CD and DVD devices to modify the firmware on their drive technology to work with the SecurDisk software. "We're using the drive's firmware as a channel to pass the authentication to the disk" he says, noting that this will offer an additional layer of security to users.

Hackers, according to Lippoth, will have a much harder time breaking into a combination of hardware and software. "The hardware is less accessible than software -- with software you have everything running in memory," he says, adding that the memory space is much more vulnerable to hackers.

So far, though, just one vendor, LG Electronics, has agreed to partner with Nero. LG is adapting its Multi DVD Writer product to work with Nero's software. "Products will probably be on the shelves by the time of the CeBIT show in March," adds Lippoth.

Although Nero and LG Electronics have not yet announced pricing, Lippoth says that startup is already on the lookout for OEM deals with enterprise storage vendors and expects to announce more partners by the end of the year.

At least one analyst thinks there is a growing demand for this type of product. "This plays into what organizations are trying to do in making their security protocols consistent," says William Hurley, an independent industry analyst. "There's a big opportunity for dense optical media to become an inexpensive and low-power replacement for conventional archiving technologies."

Recent months have certainly seen an upsurge of interest in optical storage, with CIOs citing performance benefits over tape and cost benefits over magnetic disk. (See Users Open Up on Optical and Optical WORMs Into Enterprise.) Vendor Powerfile, for example, is already touting DVD-based optical storage archive systems as a fast-access, low-power alternative to tape. (See Powerfile Intros Appliance, PowerFile Adds Archiving, and Archiving Gets a Refresh.)

Big-name users are also latching onto the optical trend. Media giant Turner Broadcasting System, for example, recently described its plans to deploy optical media to meet the needs of high-definition TV. (See Turner Exec Explains Overhaul.)

Whether Nero can successfully exploit the move towards optical storage, though, remains to be seen. "LG is primarily a consumer electronics company, and the value-sell to the consumer is tough," warns Hurley. "I think that [Nero] has got a lot of work to do in terms of educating the market and finding out how to price to value."

With the optical storage market still not fully formed, working out which vendors to team up with will also be crucial to Nero's long-term success. Last year, for example, lack of customer demand forced Sony to pull the plug on its Professional Disc for Data (PDD) optical storage format.

— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Decru Inc.
  • Iron Mountain Inc. (NYSE: IRM)
  • LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS)
  • NeoScale Systems Inc.
  • Nero Inc.
  • Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE)
  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)
  • Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: TWX)

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