‘SAFE’ technology protects data from theft and accidental distribution

The Secure, Automatic, Failsafe Eraser ensures sensitive data is erased if tampered with

March 25, 2024

A rendering of the Secure, Automatic, Failsafe Eraser. This technology will improve data security.

A new technology created by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory will improve data safety in several areas ranging from treaty verification to medical services. The project, called the Secure, Automatic, Failsafe Eraser (SAFE), is able to erase the memory of devices and prevent data disclosures.

“Our goal is to modernize dismantlement verification instruments while improving the information barrier,” said Bertrand Dushime, of the Lab’s Space Electronics and Signal Processing group and collaborator on the SAFE project. “This technology will allow for superior analysis, facilitating more specific and sophisticated parameter verification, and higher-quality treaty verification and monitoring.”

Due to the emphasis on preventing illicit information transfer, treaty verification instruments — especially dismantlement verification instruments — are stuck with old, simple electronics with limited analysis and processing capability.

Because of these limitations, the Los Alamos team came up with an improved approach. They designed a modern microcontroller or field-programmable gate array (FPGA) based device that has more processing and data analysis capability and ensures zero data transfer or retention. This will guarantee that the memory erases itself as soon as power is lost, or if a device is tampered with.

Because microcontrollers are field programmable, they can be configured to perform a wide variety of other tasks and can be adapted to accommodate the requirements of almost any industry that deals with sensitive information.

Some potential industries that could benefit from SAFE include:

  • Institutions with access to classified information: Automatic memory erasure of devices when removed from a secure area.
  • Military fields: Automatic memory erasure of technology if captured by the enemy.
  • Medical or financial services: Automatic memory erasure of devices containing sensitive information if removed from the premises.

About the team

The SAFE team includes Ernst Esch, principal investigator of SAFE and a researcher in the Laboratory’s Space Science and Applications group; Bertrand Dushime, of the Space Electronics and Signal Processing group; and Luke Strebe, of the Space Instrument Realization group.

This project was supported by the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development within the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.