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How can data on self-destructing technology be restored?

Nearly all forms of physical storage media have a shelf life after which all data kept on them is lost, and digital preservation efforts must work quickly.

interchangeable circuit boards - digital preservation

How Can Data On Self-Destructing Technology Be Restored?

Data integrity, robust archives and digital preservation are critical for businesses to succeed, and in some cases with some forms of data, it is not only necessary but a legal obligation.

One of the key principles of the UK’s General Data Protection Regulations is Integrity and Confidentiality, which covers two of the most critical aspects of handling sensitive and important data.

Whilst data security is almost synonymous with data protection, data integrity is also a key element of ensuring that for as long as data is used and held it is robust, accurate and fit for purpose.

However, there are times when data integrity and data security can be at odds, as certain types of confidential information such as trade secrets are so important that copies of it stored in any easily accessible form could potentially lead to a company’s downfall were that information to ever be accessed without authorisation.

One possible solution to this is to supply self-destructing technological solutions that will allow data to be accessed and then deleted as soon as is appropriate in a way that is predictable and physical.

However, whilst this can help make data security easier, it can also lead to data integrity issues, and some of the best examples of this come from a rather unusual place.

The Suicide Battery

Computer hardware and video game company Capsule Computers was formed in the early 1980s and within a decade of its creation was already dealing with an issue of data security that almost led the company to bankruptcy.

Capcom’s CP System (retroactively named CPS-1) was a very successful system board that allowed different pieces of software to be installed into it, allowing arcade operators to run multiple attractions without having to replace their hardware.

In some respects, however, it became a victim of its own success, as the system was reverse-engineered and was used to run unauthorised modified copies of popular titles without a penny going to Capcom themselves.

In certain countries, there were more companies of certain bootlegs of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior than the original, which was most infamously the case with the so-called Rainbow Edition.

To get around this issue, the follow-up CP System II (CPS-2) was designed with data security in mind above all other factors.

The CPS-2 used interchangeable circuit boards to allow for multiple games to be played with the same unit, but unlike the CPS-1 unit, these B-Boards required decryption keys in order to run that were stored on battery-backed memory.

This did stop reverse-engineering, as attempts to disassemble the board would disconnect the battery, wipe the keys and make the board unusable, but it had the side effect of turning the unit into a self-destructing piece of technology through the use of what became known as a “suicide battery”.

Whilst the board was made in 1993, it took 23 years for this to be fixed, and in the meantime, there was a concerted effort both within Capcom and amongst archivists to save as many games as possible before the battery naturally ran out of charge.

A similar system was used for the final CP System board, the CP System III (CPS-3), this time taking the form of a security cartridge that stored decryption keys using battery-backed RAM.

This entire situation was an example not only of the use of self-destructing technology but its implications for data integrity, and how it becomes exceptionally important to have a plan for preservation in some form if you intend to rely on technology that destroys itself.

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