HDD Sheriff brings order to PC configurations
- By Michelle Speir
- Oct 28, 2001
Changed settings, deleted files, corrupted data, virus damage. These problems send shivers down the spines of IT administrators. Whether caused by system problems, Internet downloads, or curious or inept users, unwanted changes to a PC can cause huge headaches and a lot of downtime.
There are plenty of software-based backup-and-recovery products on the market, but they leave a security hole open: A user can simply boot from a floppy disk or press the F8 key during bootup and access the DOS command prompt. Federal agencies cannot afford to leave themselves vulnerable this way.
In addition, many software backup-and-recovery programs protect the hard disk by preventing users from accessing certain useful functions, such as the format utility, registry editor and DOS console.
To address these concerns, Jungsoft USA Inc. has introduced HDD Sheriff 5.0, a combination of hardware and software that restores data, files, operating systems and system configurations. The hardware prevents users from bypassing the regular boot cycle, and users have full access to every function on the PC. They can format or delete anything and the system will be restored to its original state.
The product also offers a unique multiuser function that makes one PC look like multiple systems, complete with different programs and configurations, depending on who is logged in. Any action the user performs, such as uninstalling programs and changing settings, will not affect the other users. A maximum of eight profiles can be created on one machine.
HDD Sheriff comes in three hardware versions: as a LAN card, a PCI card and a USB key. Each features the same software interface.
HDD Sheriff protects a system's original configuration by intercepting all hard disk modifications and saving them to an allocated backup area. When the computer's operating system later tries to read the protected portion of the hard disk, HDD Sheriff intercepts the read request and instead reads data from the corresponding backup area, where all modifications have been saved.
The two things that HDD Sheriff cannot prevent are physical failure of the hard disk and temporary changes allowed by roaming profiles that network administrators have enabled.
The program comes with several other nice features, such as a multi-OS function that allows you to install multiple operating systems on one PC and, at each boot, choose which to run. It also includes a hard-disk cloning utility.
Other useful HDD Sheriff options include protection for the BIOS and forced booting only from the hard drive. It can also prohibit low-level hard-drive formatting, which can be caused by viruses or malicious users. In addition, hard-drive partitions can be protected individually.
HDD Sheriff can run in four modes, but it's easiest to think of them as two modes that feature two options each. The first is protection mode, which can be set to automatic recovery or manual recovery. When set to automatic recovery, the PC's original configuration will automatically be restored after each reboot. This is useful in a classroom or lab environment, for example.
In manual recovery protection mode, changes are saved between boot cycles, but you can restore the original settings at any time by entering the user configuration menu upon start-up or reboot. This function would come in handy when testing software, for instance. The testing could last for several weeks, and at the end of the testing period, the system can be restored to its original state.
The other mode is supervisor mode, and you can set the program to remain in this mode until the next reboot or for the entire day. In supervisor mode, the computer works as if HDD Sheriff is not installed. All modifications are saved directly to the protected portion of the hard drive, not to the backup area.
The first option is ideal for quick changes such as adding a shortcut or changing wallpaper. The second is useful for tasks such as installing software, which usually requires at least one reboot during the process.
Room for Improvement
Although HDD Sheriff's aims are welcome, its implementation falls short of the mark in several areas.
For starters, the documentation is woefully inadequate. The user manual, for example, completely omits any explanation of how to change the protection mode from automatic recovery to manual recovery, as well as how to restore the system to the original configuration when running in manual mode.
What's more, it was impossible to figure out how to perform the above functions by looking at the software interface. The main HDD Sheriff window features a tab called "mode change," but the only three options available are the two supervisor modes and a third option labeled simply "protection mode." (It turns out that changing to manual recovery mode requires entry into the user configuration menu, which is accessed by pressing the F10 key during bootup. The supervisor configuration menu is also accessed this way.)
Our luck wasn't much better when we tried to use the multi-OS function. We wanted to install a second operating system on our test machine, but the manual left us confused and lost. Then, when a Jungsoft representative tried to walk us through the steps, we encountered a bug that did not let us create a new partition — the first step in setting up multiple operating systems. Jungsoft officials told us they had not encountered this bug before and sent us a partitioning utility they promised would solve the problem, but we did not have time to try it out before press time.
Alas, this was not the end of our problems. During installation, the Jungsoft defragmenter froze in the middle of the process. The defragmenter sets aside hard disk space for the HDD Sheriff backup files, and skipping it is strongly discouraged. We tried to run the defragmenter on three different machines, but it hung up every time. In the end, we could only achieve a successful installation when we declined to run the defragmenter.
A Diamond in the Rough
Despite all our travails, the key element of this program does work. We changed and deleted all sorts of vital files, which reappeared upon reboot. The program also comes with enough options and features to make it effective and flexible. Once we learned how to maneuver the software, changing settings was simple. But, like a diamond in the rough, this program needs a lot of polish.
Between the incomplete, confusing manual, the nonintuitive interface, the software bugs and the hardware malfunction, testing this product was a slow, frustrating experience. Clearly, Jungsoft's developers have a lot of work ahead of them. But the concept behind the product is a solid one, and once Jungsoft remedies these problems, the product will be an extremely worthwhile investment that offers protection most other backup-and-recovery programs don't deliver.
To Serve and Protect
HDD Sheriff maintains three different segments on the hard disk for configuration information.
* Protection area (C: drive). Although users can change or delete files in this area, the changes are ignored when the systems are rebooted, and the configuration reverts back to the initial installer's settings.
* Data area (D: or E: drive). This area is for daily users who need to save their work. HDD Sheriff does not protect this area, so users can delete and save data in this area. When the systems are rebooted, data saved in this area will still exist.
* Backup area. This area, for backing up deleted or modified data from the protection area, is hidden to both the administrator and general users and is used internally only by HDD Sheriff. The space is filled gradually as users make changes to the protection area by deleting, modifying or writing files. When this area fills up, users cannot make any more changes to files in the protection area. Therefore, administrators should be sure to allocate enough memory to this area.