Encryption on Passport Ultra drives

WD Passport Ultra drives are supposed to provide Optional 256bit AES hardware encryption.  I’d like to know more about this.  Is this a Self-Encrypting Drive feature activated by the WD Security software or an ATA Password set on the drive?  It would seem to be an SED, but there is not really any documentation I have found on this.  

The second question would be, what make of drive is in these Passport Ultras with 256 bit AES encryption?  To date, WD has ardently refused to make any kind of Self-Encrypted Drive.  However, Hitachi, which WD purchased, has a history of making SEDs.  So, if this is an SED, who actually makes the drive inside the package?

Perhaps someone at WD would be kind enough to reply - or someone that has done a little discection or further investigating.  Thank you.

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I’d love to create a support case.  Tried to email.  Gave me an error as shown in the pic I’m attaching. Error occurred in Knowledgebase search, but I didn’t do one.  At the bottom, it asks for places I’ve already looked for a solution, but gives none to select.  Both in Chrome and IE.  Sigh…  Will give a phone call.

I just called WD Support.  The technician said that this is not a Self-Encrypted Drive.  She said that the WD Secure software must be installed and then it will be encrypted.  I pressed further and she said this was software encryption and NOT hardware encryption as specified on the website. I asked again to clarify and she once again said it was software and not hardware encryption.

I have ordered one of these drives, so I’ll be able to see for myself what is going on and open the case to see what kind of drive is inside.  I’ll post the information when I have it.

Today I was contacted by Western Digital support.  I asked the gentleman the same questions and he said it is truly a hardware encrypted drive, not software encrypted.  He did not really know what a Self-Encrypted Drive was, but kept telling me the same things that were in the known documentation.  He did claim it was self-encrypted, but he did not really know what Self-Encrypted Drives are, given our further conversation.  I asked for further documentation and he just sent me to the standard Passport Ultra page that tells us nothing special.

I’ll post more when I have my drive and I can open it up and run my own tests.

I found this article over at ZDnet that states that many of WDs newer drives are now SEDs, although he only lists portable drives, inlcuding the Passport Ultra.  My drive arrived today and I opened it to find a WD10JMVW drive inside.  Forums like this discuss the drive as being a Self-Encrypted Drive.

So it appears that the Passport Ultra is an SED of sorts and the WD Secure software handles the password management on the drive.  But I still cannot find where WD clearly identifies their drives as Self-Encrypting Drives as specified by the Trusted Computing Group standards and that they are qualified to the NIST FIPS 140-2 standard.  Perhaps they are, but then why doesn’t WD advertise their qualfications and specifications?  Time may tell.

By the way, this YouTube video was interesting.  A data recovery company was able to take a WD USB drive that had a 256 bit Hardware Encryption password set and get the data off it.  The video specifically mentions the drives firmware on the circuit board was corrupt and they replaced the circuit board with a normal SATA board and copied some information from the old to the new board.   Then with some software they access the data.  It is not completely clear if they had the password for entry on the “fixed” drive, but I’ve asked them for more information on this.