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WORM drives

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 1 month, 1 week ago

a page of technology


one of my professional failures


Years ago, before CD-R, there were optical drives known as WORM ('Write Once Read Multiple') drives. They were expensive and I looked at them briefly and longingly as a means of offline storage of images, this in the days when 80MB was a large HDD, image compression was not so well-developed and image storage was a real problem despite small file sizes necessitated by relatively small memory (my 16MB of RAM was in those days greeted by friends with a 'wow').


AFAIK they are no longer available, made redundant by CD-R, CD-RW and the various DVD formats. Were I dictator-for-life, that would change. This isn't quite what the Wikipedia article said last time I checked. There's more to WORM than you might think.


The beauty of the original WORM drives as opposed to CD-R is that on a true WORM you can't easily change the data once it is written. The firmware in the drive prevents it. This was not a deliberate feature, and nobody seems to have valued it. Again, were I d-f-l I'd not only bring back this feature, I'd strengthen it.


The WORM drive is the right medium for any data that has the following characteristics:


  • It needs to be stored for more than a few days.
  • It shouldn't ever be changed once it's written.


These are of course the characteristics of nearly all financial data. Errors in a ledger aren't corrected by changing them. They are corrected by reversing them with balancing entries. Or that's what my audit training told me, anyway. A hard disk drive, on the other hand, is about the worst possible storage mechanism for such data.


The rejection of my proposal to the EDP Auditor's Association (published Australia in EDPACS newsletter, I don't have the date to hand) that we should promote the use of WORM drives was, in hindsight, the beginning of my disillusionment with auditing as a profession. WORM drives stood to empower the people, and reduce the overheads of financial auditing. Nobody cared.


Again, if I were d-f-l, every ATM, every POS terminal, every place that is capable of offline processing of financial data would have a cheap, mass-produced WORM drive, using cheap mass-produced media not mountable on a CD-R but using similar technology, and with a "printable" top surface which could not only be printed, but also signed with a felt pen. These disks would be kept as permanent archives of the transactions.


Possesion of machinery capable of tampering with these records would be a criminal offence similar to counterfeiting. There is no reason for anybody to have such gear unless they are committing fraud.


Food for thought? Maybe it's not too late. If we are serious about empowering the little guys, and protecting them from Enron and the like, WORM drives still make a lot of sense to me.


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