Shredding hard drives (HDDs) definitely renders the data on them inaccessible, but the problem is that there are far more things an undamaged drive could be used for. For this reason, we truly dislike shredding IT equipment as a means to ensure security. Industry-standard data erasure certifications, on the other hand, create an ideal solution: no more data with no damage done. But what are the best practices when it comes to data sanitization?
Know your standards
Sanitizing data is as thorough as it sounds. Data erasure allows companies to disposition their devices without being concerned that their data will be up for grabs by the recycler or a new user. This is important to get right, since the most sustainable thing to do with a dispositioned device is to reuse it.
Here are the current ways data can be eliminated:
- Shredding – this is the most destructive as it renders the HHD completely unusable.
- Degaussing – this removal method creates a “black box” where data is locked away, which also renders a drive useless.
- Overwriting – performing a “wipe” means using software specifically designed to overwrite the data on a drive, thereby erasing the original content. An erased drive can be reused.
- Deleting files – simply deleting hard drives is pointless since it never fully eliminates data, it merely sends it to a deleted folder on the drive.
- Defragging – like deleting files, defragmenting drives still leaves some data locked away, but not completely eliminated.
As you can see, there are only three ways to completely eliminate data, and only one that allows the drive to be used again and again. Shredding and degaussing are extremely common, but also more costly for your business in the end.
Fun Fact: shredding, though not preferred, is not as unsustainable as you might think. The majority of a hard drive’s construction is aluminum, which is easily recycled. We just don’t like shredding because recycling is second to reuse, and HHDs are an ideal piece of hardware to reuse.
Getting the most out of wipes
It used to be that manufacturers built in a degree of “slop” with hard drives, which allowed them to be more reliable at retrieving data. The problem, however, was that it took half a dozen overwriting attempts to cover all that missed data. But today’s drives are like performance car engines. As manufacturing methods and processing power improved, hard drives became tighter and more efficient—no more slop needed. This means that you’ll probably do no more than 2 or 3 overwrites to reach 100% erasure. And, really, just one overwrite will likely get it clean.
Since data is the new currency, global standards have been put in place for data erasure. You might have heard of a DOD wipe, which was the older way of requesting 100% sanitization without shredding. Well, today, regardless of the tools you use to achieve erasure, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)800-88 standard is what you should be shooting for with any data erasure process. Anymore, asking for a DOD wipe is like asking for directions to the nearest payphone.
Make a comprehensive sanitization plan
I would be remiss in not mentioning one of the most important aspects of data sanitization, and that is inventory management. Regardless of how good your erasure method is, not being able to find all your devices makes your data security vulnerable.
This is where using an ITAD partner like Sage could be doubly valuable. Not only will we 100% clean your data, but we will track your inventory, maintain a database of all your assets, and provide several platforms where you can remarket your hard drives or any other device or component.
The alternative of remarketing (either through an employee purchase program, our public sales channel, or through donations with GoodTogether) allows us to create additional sources of revenue or sustainability credit for our clients while still providing the much-needed security they require.
So, next time you have a hard drive you need cleaned, don’t send it off to the recycler; have your ITAD partner give it a NIST 800-88 globally recognized erasure and put that drive up for reuse. Both your planet and your bottom line will thank you.