Illinois University researchers have developed a new Solid State Drive (SSD) with a ‘time-travel’ feature to ward off Ransomware attacks.
According to Illinois students Chance Coats and Xiaohao Wang, and Assistant Professor Jian Huang from the Coordinated Science Laboratory, the new drive saves files without needing to pay any ransom.
Coats, Wang and Huang have jointly published a paper detailing the effectiveness of their ‘Project Almanac: A Time-Traveling Solid State Drive.’
“The paper explains how we leverage properties of flash-based storage that currently exist in most laptops, desktops, mobiles, and even IoT devices” says Coats.
“The motivation was a class of malware called ransomware, where hackers will take your files, encrypt them, delete the non-encrypted files and then demand money to give the files back.”
The newly proposed flash-based, solid-state drives are actually part of the storage system in most computers.
When a file is modified on the computer, rather than getting rid of the old file version immediately, the solid-state drive saves the updated version to a new location.
The Illinois team contends that these old versions are the key to thwarting ransomware attacks.
If there is an attack, the tool can be used to revert to a previous version of the file.
“When you want to write new data, it has to be saved to a free block, or block that has already been erased,” says Coats.
“Normally a solid-state drive would delete old versions in an effort to erase blocks in advance, but because our drive is keeping the old versions intentionally, it may have to move the old versions before writing new ones.”
Coats described this as a trade-off between retention duration and storage performance.
If their new tool is set to maintain data for too long, old and unnecessary versions will be kept and take up space on the storage device.
On the other hand, if the parameters are set to a retention window that is too narrow, users could have a quicker response time – but not all files would be saved.
To manage this trade-off, Huang and his students built in functionality for the tool to monitor and adjust these parameters dynamically.
This allows users to backup their data onto other systems within three days if they choose to do so.
Image and content: Datto/University of Illinois