Electronics patent of the month: Secure storage on memory sticks
GB Patent Number: 2460304
Granted to: ExactTrak
It’s hard to hear the phrases, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it” or “this tape will self-destruct in five seconds” without bringing to mind Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt (or for the older readers, Dan Briggs or Jim Phelps) of the Mission: Impossible series. Since the dawn of time, man has developed ingenious ways of sending secret messages around the globe and cryptography has come along way since the Atbash and Julius Caesar’s cipher.
Of course, transferring messages from one place to another is much easier nowadays and the memory stick has become as ubiquitous as the ball point pen (after all, how many memory sticks have you owned in your life and of those, how many do you know their whereabouts?).
GB patent no. 2460304 was granted to ExactTrak Limited on 20 February 2013 and addresses head-on the issue of secure storage on a memory stick. Due to the small size of memory sticks, they are easily mislaid and if sensitive information is stored on such devices it can lead to a potential security breach.
These mishaps seem to be happening ever more frequently. In February of last year, a memory stick was found containing a safety assessment of a nuclear power station. In another incident, personal details of children in care were found on a memory stick belonging to Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
The Oxfordshire-based company’s invention tackles this risk by incorporating within the memory stick a wireless transceiver and a GPS receiver. When the memory stick is connected to a computer, the GPS receiver will determine the stick’s location and the wireless transceiver transmits the location to a server. At the server, the location information is checked against a list of authorised locations and access to the stick’s memory is enabled or disabled based on the result.
Furthermore, the wireless transceiver can receive an instruction to apply a voltage to the memory to destroy it – presumably without the Mission: Impossible-esque smoke – thereby disabling access to any sensitive data stored on the device.
Another feature of the invention includes making the casing of the memory stick tamper resistant, such that if an attempt is made to open the memory stick the memory becomes inoperable.
The device may additionally include an encryption processor so that when the location of the device is received by the server, it returns a decryption key to the memory stick to allow the user to access the stored data. So, Mr Hunt, would you like one for the new Mission: Impossible 5?
Michael Jaeger is a patent attorney at leading UK patent and trade mark attorneys, Withers & Rogers LLP.
Previous Electronics Patent of the Months:
Electronics patent of the month: Anti retail-theft RFID antenna and readercomputer memory, dram, eeprom, electronic memory, sram