The everyday ramblings of an everyday geek.

Friday, October 28, 2005

50GB down the drain

A year ago I was quite into XBox modding, 64MB, a 733MHz PIII processor, 10/100 network and a TV out, it simply cries out to be turned into a personal video playback device but there are a few quirks with the XBox because they want you to use it for games only.

Firstly the bios will only boot if the hard drive is locked.
Secondly, XBox live will ban you if you lock your hard drive with a known password (TEAMASSEMBLY, XBOXSCENE)

But what did I care? I mean I actually wanted to use the XBox and XBox live so locking my 40GB harddive to the XBox didn't seem like a big deal - anyway, if anything went wrong I could just low-level format my HDD and use it something else right?

Well thats what I thought whilst I blithely ignored Smartxx's requests for me to record the master password, and that failure to do so may result in data loss - pah! Thats for people you don't know who to use fdisk!

Wrong. HDD security is not impossible to crack, but it requires that you have specialized hardware, which I do not. It is really, really clever and turns a password protected HDD into a brick if you don't have the right 32byte passwords. No really it does. Written into the ATA command set is a series of security commands that, once setup, stop all data access until a security unlock command is sent with the user password. If you have only the master password there is a chance that you may be able to get the drive back, at the expense of doing a security erase which destroys all data on the hard drive. But thats not a problem, I thought, surely you can just change, or flash the EEPROM. In a word... no.

I didn't realise this, but the EEPROM on the hard disk (the bit that converts the ATA signals into something the HDD understands) isn't kept completely on the EEPROM chip, its also on a hidden cylinder on the hard drive (the bit only the hard drive itself can access). So when you power up, even if you change or flash the EEPROM, the bit that you are trying to kill is loaded back from the platters, leaving the HDD in the same, brick-like state.

The internet is filled with software that lets you try and circumvent these measures, but all of them involve you knowing at least one of the two passwords. Which means I can kiss goodbye to my spare 10GB and 40GB HDDs.

Accept for one thing. There is a company ( that sells HDD recovery using their software for $49.50. The only way that can work is by using secret ATA codes that the manufactures have left in for just such a circumstance. $49.50 is more than my drives are worth, but it can  only be a matter of time before somebody cracks them and I can get my poor little drives back. In the mean time, the 10GB that was in Kay's old PC is more than adequate.


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