Imation Scanner Protects Tapes

Tape vendors have been including a little bit of flash in their tape cartridges -- and over hyping the capabilities of that memory -- since Sony added MIC (Memory in Cassette) to AIT-1 in 1996. Imation's Secure Scan extends the real usefulness of the RF accessible cartridge memory beyond identifying unique tapes and tracking error data to securely locking tapes for transport.

Howard Marks

August 5, 2009

2 Min Read
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Tape vendors have been including a little bit of flash in their tape cartridges -- and over hyping the capabilities of that memory -- since Sony added MIC (Memory in Cassette) to AIT-1 in 1996. Imation's Secure Scan extends the real usefulness of the RF accessible cartridge memory beyond identifying unique tapes and tracking error data to securely locking tapes for transport.

The hype is that tape cartridge memory speeds access to backup data. Even if backup software vendors wrote their drivers to save catalog data in the cartridge memory for systems, the limited amount of memory in a cartridge could be used, at best, to store the starting block of each backup job, not the whole catalog of backup files. After all, an LTO cartridge has just 4-8KB of memory while AIT cassettes can hold a whopping 64K.

What's stored in the CM (Cartridge Memory) or the MIC is performance data. For instance, what drive the tape was loaded into, error rates, amount of data read and written to the cartridge, along with what kind generation of tape it is. This speeds up tape loads and prevents an LTO-1 drive from loading an LTO-4 cartridge.

Imation has offered a service for years where their field folks use an RF scanner to collect data from a customer's LTO tapes and run it through statistical analysis software that identifies failing tapes and drives. They're now selling the USB scanner/software combination, for $4,000, so customers can analyze their own tapes. Since the data is collected via RF, scanning tapes is much faster than loading them into a drive to read the tape header. Maxell sells a similar scanner as their "LTO Cartridge Memory Analyzer." The unique twist is that Imation's scanner and software will also modify the data in the MIC so that LTO drives will see the tape as a product they can't load. 

So you can take a tape, stick it on the scanner for a few seconds, and LTO drives won't load it until you stick it on a scanner again and enter the right password.  Even if someone could rewrite the MIC data to say this was a valid tape, the data wouldn't match the tape header and the drive would reject the tape.This is probably is good enough security for most applications, but only a fool would spend thousands of dollars developing technology only to break it in order to read tapes stolen from an Iron Mountain courier. Unfortunately, since the data isn't encrypted, if someone loses tapes containing PII (credit card info, etc), you're still legally required, at least in forty-two states, to alert the media, because you can't guarantee that no one has read the tapes. 
 

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at: http://www.deepstorage.net/NEW/GBoS

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