I just purchased a 1TB Samsung T7 Touch External SSD Drive. Main reasons were:
- Its hardware based AES-256 encryption capability.
- Its USB 3.2 connectivity and claimed max read/write throughput of about 1 GB/s
- Its looks
Obviously, like this, the drive would be useless for power users while its coveted security mode is on. Thankfully, the latest software version, which you have to seek out, locate, download and install yourself, does fix the problem; once installed it downloads and installs the latest firmware to the drive which makes the drive work as expected, i.e. it is stable in long term use while security mode is on.
The implementation of its security mode, however, does leave a few serious doubts to those who are security conscious and technically akin to cybersecurity. When I switched from security to non-security mode and after I disconnected and reconnected the drive I noticed that my files, previously copied over with security mode on, were still accessible as normal. So, how were they encrypted then? Security mode was off and I was never asked for a password when I reconnected the drive, so... This implies the following grim fact: The AES-256 symmetric encryption key is always the same, but probably unique per drive, and potentially known/recorded by Samsung. The are some subcases here - some grimmer than other:
- The AES-256 key is hardcoded and therefore potentially fairly easily accessible via hardware/physical attack by a person with some electronics expertise. This would mean that turning on the security mode and supplying a password merely saves your password in a non volatile register (maybe hashed or maybe even in plaintext, though the latter would be unthinkable for a company like Samsung - more to be expected by Chinese companies of the worse kind), the host software compares the password you supply, on each drive connection event, to the one in the register and then either allows files to be decoded by the hardcoded key and appear as available or not. Security-wise, this is a pretty bad predicament.
- The AES-256 key is recorded in a non-volatile register, initially in plaintext, but once security mode is turned on, it is encrypted, using an undocumented algorithm, with the user password as key or part of the key, and then re-recorded in the same non-volatile register in encrypted form. When security mode is turned off it is re-recorded in its plaintext form and I remember that the software does ask you for your password when you turn off security mode. This is better but does not change the sobering facts that:
- Samsung potentially knows and records the AES-256 key for each drive it puts out in the market.
- We do not know how good the key encryption algorithm and overall implementation of the encryption/decryption process is.
Regarding point 2, a host computer with a USB 3.0 bus will only give you half the maximum read/write speed of the drive (around 400/500 MB/s); to get close to the maximum speed of 1GB/s you would need a host computer with a USB 3.2 bus.