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How Storage Encryption works

Storage Encryption occurs at the firmware level of disks that are equipped with special firmware and hardware to provide the additional security, also known as self-encrypting disks (SEDs). SEDs can operate either in unprotected mode like regular disks, or in protected mode requiring authentication after the power-on process.

SEDs always encrypt data for storage. In unprotected mode, the encryption key needed to decrypt and access the data is freely available. In protected mode, the encryption key is protected and requires authentication to be used.

When you first enable and configure Storage Encryption on a storage system using SEDs, you create an authentication key that the storage system uses to authenticate itself to the SEDs. You configure the storage system with the IP address to one or more external key management servers that securely stores the authentication key.

The storage system communicates with the key management servers at boot time to retrieve the authentication keys. Data ONTAP requires the authentication keys to authenticate itself to the SEDs any time after the SEDs are power-cycled.

If the authentication is successful, the SEDs are unlocked. The SEDs use the authentication key to decrypt the data encryption keys stored inside the disk. When presented with a read request, SEDs automatically decrypt the stored data before passing it on to the storage system. When presented with a write request from the storage system, SEDs automatically encrypt the data before writing the data to the disk's storage platters. When the SEDs are locked, Data ONTAP must successfully authenticate itself to the disk before the SEDs allow data to be read or written. When locked, SEDs require authentication each time the disk is powered on.

Encryption and decryption happens without a perceptible disk performance decrease or boot time increase. Storage Encryption does not require a separate license key. The only additional required component is an external key management server.

When you halt and power down the storage system, including the disk shelves containing SEDs, the disks are locked again and the data becomes inaccessible.