One of the most important elements of proper data security is the effective destruction and elimination of data that’s obsolete, no longer necessary, or taking up too much space and resources. There can be major negative impacts of failing to properly destroy data, which we’ll cover in more detail later in this article, but for now suffice it to say that your compliance, security, and commitment to customers and clients are all at stake.
Unfortunately, many companies aren’t aware of the best ways to ensure secure data destruction. Those that are aware of the options available to them aren’t always sure exactly which option they should choose.
In general, it’s important to understand the various methods of data destruction, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to properly ensure secure data instruction. In this piece, we’ll answer key questions relating to secure and confidential data destruction, including:
- Why data destruction matters
- What are the key elements of data destruction
- Whether to choose software wiping, overwriting, degaussing, or physical destruction
- How to destroy a hard drive
- When to use a combination of data destruction methods
- The risks of inadequate data destruction
- How to choose an experienced data destruction company to handle secure data elimination
First, let’s discuss why secure data destruction is so important for all kinds of businesses.
Why Data Destruction Matters
Secure data destruction is an essential element of any business that deals with client or customer data, proprietary data and intellectual property, data that requires some level of security clearance, or data that involves national security or the public’s wellbeing.
For many businesses, proper data destruction is a matter of reputation. Companies that experience data leaks as a result of poor data destruction processes can expect to receive negative press as well as a loss of trust from customers and clients. This can lead to a loss of business and lasting impact on their reputation. Meanwhile, proper data destruction can help assure clients and customers that their information is in safe hands when they work with a specific business.
Data security is also a matter of legal and regulatory compliance. Most businesses must adhere to laws that require the adequate destruction or security of data, as do privacy policies designed to protect both businesses and consumers.
The Key Elements of Data Destruction
When it comes to data destruction, there are essentially three main options available for businesses— overwriting, degaussing, and physical destruction. Which method you use will depend on a range of factors, and you may use one method in one scenario and another method to meet a different need. In fact, many businesses even use more than one form of secure data destruction in a single instance to help fully ensure that the data has been disposed of properly.
Let’s dive into the details about each method of secure data destruction, including how each one works, it’s benefits, and any potential drawbacks relative to other methods.
Software Overwriting or Wiping
Software overwriting is the process of eliminating data by writing new data over the top of it. Think of it like recording over a VHS cassette back in the days of VCRs. The process of overwriting uses the storage once occupied by the original data to make space for the new, erases anything that was leftover or at the very least making it 100% unable to be read or accessed.
Also known as data wiping depending on the context, data overwriting can be an effective way to remove sensitive data from a hard drive or other device. So what new data is used to overwrite the old data? Oftentimes it’s simply a random pattern of code. In other cases, companies will use a specific pattern of code that then serves as a sort of verification tool to ensure that the data was properly wiped. This pattern can be read and interpreted to identify hard drives and other devices that have been properly wiped.
In some cases, a single overwrite can be enough to properly eliminate data on a device. In other cases, companies may wish to use multiple overwrites for an added guarantee of complete data destruction.
Overwriting can be a relatively quick and inexpensive form of secure data destruction, and it can often be handled almost entirely by a software program rather than being completed manually. However, overwriting hard drives with a high data capacity can be time consuming. There may also be cases where the overwrite can’t access certain protected areas of the data that may be locked. Finally, overwriting can only be effective if the storage device itself is fully functional. A nonfunctioning hard drive can’t be overwritten, leaving data behind that could be accessed if another party were to repair the device.
While it can be effective in some cases, without a system in place for quality assurance, completeness, and verification, data overwriting can fall short as a form of data destruction.
What is Degaussing and How Does It Work?
When it comes to hard drives and data storage devices, magnets can be extremely damaging. When it comes to data destruction, this can be an advantage. Degaussing is the process of using a high-powered magnet that interferes with the magnetic field of a storage device, destroying any ability to read the data contained on it. This process is completed by a machine known as a degausser, and there are a range of them available depending on the type of device whose data needs to be erased.
One of the most desirable advantages of degaussing is that it ensures 100% un-recoverability of data. A properly degaussed hard drive ensures complete destruction of all sensitive data entirely. As a result, degaussing is often the preferred method for how to destroy a hard drive when it comes to the most sensitive possible data.
One disadvantage of degaussing is that the device itself can be heavy, cumbersome, and expensive to own and operate. Meanwhile, if not handled properly their strong electromagnetic fields can damage other unintended equipment not involved with the data destruction effort.
It should also be noted that degaussing doesn’t just make existing data on hard drives unreadable— it makes the hard drives themselves permanently unusable. Unlike overwriting, which keeps the functionality of the hard drives themselves intact, degaussing completely destroys a hard drive and renders it useless.
Finally, one complication in the recent history of degaussing for data destruction is that as laptop and computer technology changes, some hard drives become denser and resist the effects of degaussing. Without proper care, companies may find that the degaussing process didn’t adequately destroy all sensitive data, leaving some behind.
Because degaussing is completed with a large amount of manual input, it’s also easy for human error to cause mistakes in the process that can lead to ineffective data destruction.
Physical Destruction of Hardware
Another form of data destruction is the actual physical destruction of the hardware it’s stored on. Hardware can be shredded, melted, or destroyed by any means that ensures that the media itself is completely unreadable and can’t be salvaged.
When it comes to being the most certain that data has been destroyed, complete physical destruction offers the highest level of certainty. Consider that a completely melted hard drive has no chance of being recovered by a malicious 3rd party.
That said, physical destruction as a means of data destruction does have some significant disadvantages. The primary one is that it can be costly. Machinery and devices designed for hardware destruction can be expensive for your company to purchase and maintain. It’s also not the most sustainable form of data destruction, leaving waste in the form of destroyed hard drives.
One of the most common reasons a company opts for physical destruction is that circumstances don’t allow the storage devices to be transported to a safe location for degaussing. If an organization has a high number of devices with data that needs to be destroyed, they may not be able to get all of these devices to a single spot for degaussing. It may make more sense to simply melt down the hard drives into recyclable components. Recycling melted hard drive materials can also help alleviate some of the less sustainable issues with physical hardware destruction.
It’s important to note, however, that not all forms of destruction are equal in their effectiveness. While drilling holes in a hard drive with a screwdriver has become a popular DIY form of data destruction, this is far from secure. Data can remain in the areas of the hard drive not directly destroyed by the holes, and that data can be recovered.
The Risks of Inadequate Data Destruction
What happens when companies skip the careful and deliberate process of data destruction? They leave themselves exposed to a long list of potential issues.
First, there is the direct risk of leaked data. It could be intellectual property, which competitors can use to get a leg up on the competition. It could also be secure customer data, a leak of which could lead to severe loss of trust from your customers and clients.
Even more serious, companies that fail to securely destroy data could find themselves on the wrong side of compliance with regulations and data protection laws. This can lead to fines and other serious issues, which all add up to serious added costs for a business.
The bottom line— it’s much less costly to invest in proper and secure data destruction than it is to risk ineffectively destroying data and having to deal with the ramifications.
Choosing the Right Secure Data Destruction Company
To guarantee that your data is properly destroyed, your best bet is to enlist the data destruction services of an experienced and trusted secure data destruction company. These companies have the expertise, tools, and skills required to ensure that your data will be fully destroyed, and that you remain fully compliant of all NIST data destruction regulations and other important laws.
Here are some of the traits to look for in a secure data destruction company.
Cutting Edge Technology
It’s important that any data destruction services provider has the full range of technology available to get the job done. At Transpere, we use only the most up-to-date technology when it comes to overwriting software, degaussing devices, and physical destruction devices available. This ensures that no matter how much data is handled and how it’s destroyed, you won’t be left open to breaches due to outdated technology.
Flexibility & Convenience
Choose a partner that offers both off-site and on-site hard drive data destruction. For example, Transpere uses mobile hard drive shredders that can be deployed anywhere in the United States. This also offers the visibility that businesses want to oversee the process of data and hardware destruction firsthand.
Guaranteed Security and Destruction
The best data destruction services providers will provide a guarantee of full data destruction. At Transpere, we provide you with a nationally recognized Certificate of Destruction, as well as a chain-of-custody document to show full compliance and provide transparency about every step of the process.
A data destruction services provider should save you money, not cost you more than if you handled the project yourself. By partnering with a trusted company like Transpere, you don’t need to purchase equipment, sign expensive and restrictive contracts, or waste time and resources destroying data that could be better used growing your business. We’ll be your experienced, dependable, and fully compliant partner to ensure that secure data destruction is left in the capable hands of true experts.
At Transpere, we’re trusted by thousands of companies, from small and medium-size businesses to over 80% of all Fortune 1000 companies in the U.S. alone. These companies trust us for our convenience, affordability, privacy assurances and guarantee of full, complaint data destruction. Want to learn more? Contact us today!
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