April 01, 2007

Vista Shadow Copies -- Helpful to Users, Even More to EDD Recovery?

Microsoft has billed Vista as their most secure operating system to date. However, there's a little-known feature that could cause some data security concerns. Amidst the flurry over EDD and the new rules, Microsoft included a feature to certain versions of Windows Vista that may aid in recovering prior versions of files.

From Microsoft's Vista site:

Have you ever accidentally saved over a file you were working on? Accidental file deletion or modification is a common cause of data loss. Windows Vista includes a useful innovation to help you protect your data: Shadow Copy. Available in the Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista, this feature automatically creates point-in-time copies of files as you work, so you can quickly and easily retrieve versions of a document you may have accidentally deleted. Shadow copy is automatically turned on in Windows Vista and creates copies on a scheduled basis of files that have changed [...] It works on single files as well as whole folders.
Very helpful indeed. There have been a number of occasions over the years when I've accidentally replaced a file when I should have saved it as new one with a different file name. We've all been there.

However, now consider the difficulty in trying to rid a system of shadow copies for legitimate security and confidentiality concerns. A laptop user may need to work on a confidential file while traveling. Since laptops are easily stolen, accidentally left behind, etc., it may be desirable to wipe the file later to maintain security and confidentiality. Consider some of the recent news stories covering thefts of laptops containing considerable amounts of personal data. It's a good bet that most file wiping utilities can't handle wiping the Vista shadow copies, at least not yet anyway.

Note that Shadow Copy is enabled by default in Vista Ultimate, Business, and Enterprise editions. So if data security and confidentiality is paramount to file recovery, organizations should consider disabling this feature in their Vista rollouts. On-the-fly encryption is another consideration, recognizing it has pros and cons as well.

[P.S. Seeing as I'm posting this on April 1st, I thought I'd emphasize this information was gathered directly from Microsoft's site. Also, Ars Technica has a post on this from as far back as last summer. Now if you're looking for an April Fools gag, Google got their hands dirty this year with Google's TiSP Beta. More on the gag at USA Today.]

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Legal Technology  |  Privacy & Security
Posted by Jeff Beard