Shanghai scientists pioneer new data storage technology

By Warren Miller,
contributing writer

Memory can be a tricky thing — sometimes you forget where you
put keys just 10 minutes earlier, yet you can remember exactly how many home runs
the left fielder for the Yankees hit in 1897. Data storage can be similarly
tricky —
there are benefits and drawbacks to the different forms of computer memory that
you’ve become familiar with. Now, a team of researchers from Shanghai’s Fudan
University believe they have created a more efficient type of data storage that could revolutionize
the way computers (and their human overlords) secure and transfer information.

Before now, data storage using semiconductors came in two
basic forms. The first, volatile storage, is what your computer’s internal
memory uses to keep track of what you’re doing as you do it. (As I type this,
the volatile storage in my computer is storing what I write.) Volatile storage
boasts almost instantaneous data writing speeds, but if I were to turn off my
computer at this moment without saving, what I’ve written would be lost. The
second form, nonvolatile storage, is what flash drives use to store data you
save to them. Data saved to a flash drive has a shelf life of upwards of 10
years, but it takes much longer to write data onto them than it does to write
to volatile storage. 

Image source: Pixabay.

The Fudan team believes their innovation is essentially the
best of both worlds, bridging the gap between volatile and nonvolatile memory
structures. Its data writing rates are approximately 10,000 times faster than
typical flash memory devices while still maintaining their long-term stability.
The length of time the data stored can also be specified, meaning data can be
stored from anywhere from 4 hours to four years, depending on the needs of the
application. This is a particularly relevant feature in the realm of data
security, as users may want certain information to be accessible for a finite
period of time. In particular, keys used to encrypt or decrypt data could be
stored in memory only available for a short time. This would make it impossible
for keys to be ‘stolen’ after they have been used for the allotted time.

“People in the future may receive a disc in which the
data is only effective for, say, three days, which elevates the security of the
information,” Zhang Wei, executive director of the School of
Microelectronics at Fudan University and a leading researcher, told China Daily. “People can also
have tailor-made flash drives with the new storage technology. The data stored
inside will be regularly emptied at an appointed time.”

In the post-Facebook/Cambridge Analytica world, data
security is sure to be more imperative than ever before. The idea of flash
memory drives that can be programmed to clear data at predetermined intervals
could go a long way towards easing concerns of cybersecurity wonks going
forward. Now if only we could get our own memories to cooperate along similar
lines.