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LSI Discovers SandForce 256-Bit Encryption Limited To 128-Bit – Problem Resolved and Fix On The Way

An internal security audit by LSI discovered that the world famous SandForce 256-bit AES encryption of LSI Flash Storage Processors (FSP) has never been, and is not presently enabled in SandForce SSDs, as stated by LSI SandForce representatives today.

Fret not, however, as 128-bit encryption is still in place and, unique to SandForce, the SandForce SSDs are the only ones to have two separate encryption engines, a 256-bit engine on the front end and another 128-bit engine on the back end.  It is the front end 256-bit engine that currently works at only 128-bit encryption, however.

The entire situation is rather an interesting story because it is based on requirements where the US government restricts the export of any hardware to certain countries, as a matter of national security, if they contain 256-bit AES security encryption. It is for this reason that all SF-2000 processors needed to be configurable to the less controlled 128-bit encryption and this not only contributes, but just may be the reasoning behind the 256-bit encryption engine not working.  Fortunately the 128-bit AES Security Encryption engines are there to ensure complete security is in place in just this type of situation.

AES ENCRYPTION EXPLAINED

To try and break things down for the laymen, Wikipedia describes  AES as a type of encryption where the same key is used to encrypt and decrypt the data and has been adopted by the US government and used worldwide. AES operates on a 4×4 column-major order matrix of bytes, termed the state. Most AES calculations are done in a special finite field.

The AES cipher is specified as a number of repetitions of transformation rounds that convert the input plaintext into the final output of ciphertext. The number of cycles of repetition are as follows:

10 cycles of repetition for 128-bitkeys.
12 cycles of repetition for 192 bit keys.
14 cycles of repetition for 256-bit keys.

In an amusing analogy, I remember a statement once where it was compared that it would take a billion monkeys billions of years to break 128-bit code. So add to that the fact that the LSI SandForce processor has both a front and back end encryption engine making it even more secure without the 256-bit encryption.

There is a saving grace in all which adds decidedly to the credibility of LSI and that is that they are continually doing validation testing and, not only ensuring all is in order, but are resolving any issues immediately and notifying what has become a total of fifty partners worldwide.  We will, of course, see updates roll out by each in the near future, however, the details of this timing cannot be confirmed nor denied by LSI SandForce directly as a result of non-disclosure agreements in place.

SSD MANUFACTURERS OFFER DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS

Since our original post, we have received similar releases from manufacturers remedying the situation to various degrees.  Intel is offering a full refund to customers who purchased a 520 Series SSD before 1 July 2012 and they must contact Intel customer support prior to 1 October 2012.  With respect to Kingston, it affects the SSDNow V+200 and KC100 lines of SSDs and they provide that they are working closely with LSI SandForce to make work towards a solution and customers are welcome to call customer support for assistance and exchange once new drives become available.

Manufacturer releases will be posted on subsequent pages, as they arrive, and our initial release was not the result of a release, but rather, conversation with LSI directly.

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