Fourth Floor Studio

February 22, 2007

Paranoia + memory loss = bad week

Filed under: geekery, personal, stupidity — chris @ 12:45 am

I have data. Lots of data. Lots of unpublished, unanalysed data. Other people’s data. It cost money and blood and sweat. And politics. So one of my worst nightmares is where my laptop gets stolen, and some dumb schmuck decides to mirror my harddrive on the web.

Unlikely, isn’t it? They are much likelier to simply wipe the drive and go on their merry, thieving way. Data loss isn’t the problem – everything is backed up on my server at work. At most, I’ll lose a day’s work. And yet, I worry. So, like all paranoid freaks, in addition to the BIOS, I password the hard drive. The really uncrackable, serious-hardware-cracking-required password level, which won’t let you access the drive’s electronics without the key. The one without which you are, to a first approximation, up shit creek without a paddle. Guess what happens next…

Now, I’ve been around long enough to make most mistakes: sudo rm -rf * , losing passwords, etc. So I keep everything backed up, and I keep a file of passwords. Naturally, being rather paranoid, that file is PGP encrypted. So, I think, no problem! I’ll just open the copy of the password file on my server, look up the HD password, and presto! problem solved. Except…

There is no HDD password in the file.

I must have decided, at some point in the rapidly darkening past, not to store critical passwords! The strong ones, with mnemonic phrases, the ones I remembered by the key sequence rather than the key, the ones that I never wanted broken and would never forget.

At this point, damage limitation kicks in: is the whole laptop dead, or just the drive. Data recovery isn’t a problem, so the drive is expendable. Google informs me that the password is, indeed, uncrackable. It also informs me that a company in Canada provides a basic cracking service for a reasonable fee (data recovery costs much more), but I have to ship them the whole laptop. It’s cheaper to buy a new drive, but there’s a chance the BIOS chip will still insist on a password.

Fortunately, that turns out not to be the case, so I don’t have a very expensive doorstop. After a week of serious connectivity withdrawal, I now have a fresh drive, a fresh Dapper install, and a fresh appreciation for the importance of record keeping. The old drive? Well, an attempt to wipe it with a magnet crashed the heads into the disc, so it’s on the way to an electronics graveyard somewhere…



  1. It sounds a bit unlikely that someone would steal your laptop, understand the value of your data and make it public :).

    Comment by Pedro Beltrao — February 25, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

  2. I know, I know. I’m usually a “better safe than sorry” kind of person. Until I forget a password, of course. Then I’m a raging bull 🙂

    Comment by chris — February 25, 2007 @ 1:55 pm

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