Securely Delete Files on Flash Media

Posted by: Thom Denholm

If you've noticed the numerous posts lately on the Datalight blog regarding JEDEC and eMMC, you might be wondering why we're so excited about this particular standard. There are many features that this "smarter" memory will enable for OEMs; In this post I'll focus on one of those features in the eMMC specification -secure delete. Securely deleting information on flash memory is more complicated than it seems. For one thing, files are constantly being moved around to ensure even wear of the flash, resulting in multiple copies of file data on the media. Furthermore, when a file is marked for delete, it is typically not physically deleted, rather the space is only marked as available to be overwritten. Until that happens, the "deleted" data is still present and recoverable on the media. In fact, the University of California San Diego Non-volatile systems lab has produced an in depth study of file deletion on flash memory, where they found significant data still present on the media even after deleting the files. A copy of the report can be found at: order to securely delete a file on raw flash, you must use a controller that will either track every block where the file has been stored, or will overwrite the space the file was stored in each time it is moved. The latter describes exactly the secure erase and secure trim features found in the eMMC 4.41 standard. This means that the hardware will finally be capable of securely deleting files -brilliant! There is just one problem: Who has software to support this functionality? As of this writing, there is no file system which supports the feature. While an application can make a call to the media to delete a file securely, the file system may have a backup copy stored somewhere. Fact is, the file system must support the secure delete capabilities of the hardware in order for these features to function correctly. If an OEM wants to take advantage of the secure erase and secure trim features, their application will need to communicate with the eMMC driver, which may differ from part to part. As the only software company that is an active member of JEDEC, we are excited offer support for quite a few eMMC features. File system support for secure erase and secure trim will be coming later this summer!

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