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Physical Data Destruction v's Data Erasure

09 September 2021

The security of data on your hardware is not just relevant whilst it is in use. You also need to consider data security when devices reach their end of life and you prepare to decommission the equipment. In this instance, the core question that IT management needs to assess is how to dispose of data securely, using software erasure or physically destruction methods? Security best practices continue even after your devices have become redundant or reach the end of their usable life cycle. In the final stages of decommissioning, data bearing hard drives, flash media and storage devices need to be disposed of securely, but what’s the most appropriate solution for your business assets?

Compliance requirements

When it comes to compliance requirements, destroying your hard drives is a fairly straightforward task, so long as correct and certified procedures are followed. If you operate in an industry or market place which stipulates that you are not allowed to erase data, punching or shredding are likely to be the most suitable options. Those who have more flexibility and also wish to consider the financial and environmental impacts of destruction may be better suited to using a certified data wiping software solution. Defining the difference between erasure and destruction by shredding Simply put, erasing data is a software-driven process which means the device cannot be read or written to by conventional equipment (therefore rendering it unusable). Data wiping software will overwrite the hard drive or storage device data with random binary numbers which make the original data unrecoverable and unreadable. Sanitising data is a relatively time consuming process and can take anywhere from thirty minutes to twenty four hours depending on the capacity of the drive and other factors. For this reason, data wiping is best undertaken by a professional IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) company, who will set up large scale wiping rigs to complete the process efficiently and in bulk. Shredding by contrast is the process of destroying a hard drive by feeding it through a series of tough metal teeth (much like a paper shredder) and shredding the media device into pieces. Shredding hard drives and other redundant media involves firstly capturing the serial number of the drive to be destroyed and then feeding media through a set of powerful metal teeth, which dismember the device into small fragments. Shredding is a fast and visually effective method of destruction and can be done onsite at client premises (provided sufficient power and work space are available) or completed offsite at a secured ITAD premises. Shredding does tend to be an overall more expensive solution of destruction however, as there is no recoverable value or potential for reusing the hard drives unlike with data wiping. Expensive industrial shredding equipment is also required.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Data Erasure and Data Destruction

The IT industry is no different from any other - the cost of a service is largely based around the complexity of the task, the expertise of the individuals involved and the time it will take to complete the project. Erasing is a slower process, requiring greater engineering time and access to correct rigs and electricity supply, but as the hard drives can then usually be reused, this approach often generates a revenue return through resale. In reality, where the hard drive has a market, erasure is always the most cost-effective method of data destruction. Prior to commencing any hardware recycling or decommissioning project, it is important to understand whether your company will allow assets to be resold following sanitisation and to achieve an estimated resale and return value for your equipment ahead of time. Any financial return will assist in offsetting the costs of service to collect, process data-wipe your assets. It is difficult to make a judgement in-house if you do not have a deep understanding of the secondary markets and current hardware procurement trends, so we recommend using an external IT Recycling partner or Data Destruction Specialist when commencing your project. Physically destroying data when appropriate Physical destruction can offer complete peace of mind when the device storing the data has little or no value. Shredding is a method of destruction suitable for hard drives (HDD), solid state drives (SSD), flash, optical and tape media (with secondary incineration) and offers a quick and effective destruction solution, which can also be witnessed on site. Magnetic media such as tapes can also be erased using certain softwares or destroyed with a technique known as degaussing, though these methods are less commonly used. Physical destruction works when you simply want to get rid of the device, but what if the equipment could be sold on or reused? It is crucial to assess all your options before making a choice either way.

Software Data Erasure: When To Use It?

IT equipment can be handled so that the data is completely erased but the physical equipment is preserved. By wiping or erasing data from a hard drive using specialist overwriting software, the data is replaced with random binary numbers so that it can no longer be recovered nor read. When data wiping is used, devices can then be reused or resold, meaning that the financial returns for redundant assets are maximised and this can subsequently offset costs of service or pass back an overall financial return. Of course, there is also an environmental benefit of reusing hard drives too, as the devices can continue in their lifecycle and minimise items ending up in landfill, as well as removing the need to produce a new device to replace the older one.

Your Data Security Policy

Your Data Policy should have a clear definition of your company’s stipulations for when data erasure is acceptable or where assets and data must be physically destroyed. You also need to understand the individual legislative or compliance requirements within your industry and to take necessary steps to meet each of those when considering whether data erasure or shredding is needed. It is highly advisable to seek the help of an expert IT Asset Disposal company, who will be able to assist in assessing your data risks, advise on the appropriate methods of destruction and provide you with full audit reporting and data destruction certification.

FGD’s data erasure process ensures that no data remains on your redundant devices, enabling them to be resold rather than physically destroyed. Where business demands dictate that physical destruction is the only permitted method of data destruction, or in the event of hard drives fail the wiping process, FGD can also provide on or offsite shredding, SSD disintegration, or pneumatic crushing.

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