Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Self-Destructing Digital Data with Vanish

University of Washington researchers recently announced a system for permanently deleting data from the internet. The solution, called Vanish, can be used for example to delete all copies of an email cached at intermediate relay sites and ISPs during transmission from sender to receiver. Advertising that Vanish provides self-destructing data conjures up the digital equivalent of a tape that bursts into flames after its message has been played. But data protected by Vanish neither self-destructs nor does the system actively seek out data at third party sites for deletion.

Vanish works by encrypting data with a secret key (say an AES-256 key), splitting the key into secret shares, and then storing the shares at a randomly selected set of nodes in the distributed hash table (DHT) of a public P2P network. In this way Vanish creates an encrypted object for inclusion in email, for example, that the sender can transmit to a receiver or group of receivers.
When a receiver opens the encrypted object, Vanish attempts to access a sufficient number of DHT nodes with shares so that the key can be recovered and the data decrypted.

The self-destructing aspect is that the key shares will be deleted as part of the natural node churn in the DHT, quite independent of the actions of both the sender and the receiver. The lifetime of a share is about 8 to 9 hours in the DHT, after which there is a low probability that there will be a sufficient number of shares to reach the recovery threshold.

So the encrypted data does not self-destruct - but rather key recovery information is placed in volatile public storage that is very likely to delete that information after a short delay as part of its normal operation. And with that deletion also disappears logical access to all copies of the unencrypted data.

The full paper that describes the Vanish system has extensive results of experimenting with the Vuze P2P network, as well as other local simulations, examining the interplay of various parameters such as the number shares versus the deletion rate.


olj said...

That sounds really interesting. It remembers me of a company using an encryption software to encrypt hard drives of computers before being disposed. They intentionally forgot their key to protect the encrypted content.

Bryan said...

Nice post. It will help all visitors for data recovery

Cody said...

there will be no data recovery from this possible

boy labyog said...

Its better to destruct itself than to hack information by the others.