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To fully protect your data, follow these media destruction best practices. With the right technology, thieves can still recover data from a discarded hard drive. But a secure media destruction service makes data recovery impossible since they are shredded into tiny pieces and recycled. First your hard drives and backup tapes are collected from your office and the serial number from each device is recorded to prove destruction.

Your media is then transported to a shredding plant for secure destruction. After all material is shredded and recycled, you are issued a Certificate of Destruction. When strict chain of custody and high-security destruction procedures are used, shredding is the most secure and reliable form of media destruction. A scheduled data disposal service ensures that none of your data ends up in the wrong hands.

To make it easy and secure, locked destruction containers are placed in your office. When a tape or hard drive is retired, it can be quickly deposited into a container. On a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis, the containers are emptied and your media is professionally shredded. The rationale for waiting is simple — there is a performance penalty associated with overwriting every time something is marked for deletion.

But for risky data, you really have no choice. Fortunately, there are plenty of free and, more importantly, open-source tools that can be used to perform this kind of data wiping.


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The operating principle of these tools is simple: they write the whole hard disk or parts with data with a string of zeroes, ones or a random string of characters. There are plenty of standards put in place by various government organizations, but one of the first and the most popular is the Gutmann Method, stipulating up to 35 overwrites. In practice, however, with modern hard drives there is little benefit to overwriting more than three or four times as the encoding scheme they use is different, density is markedly higher and there is less volatility.

This is not a foolproof method: disks may have bad sectors that cannot be written to, but from which pieces of data could still be recovered. Some hard disks incorrectly implement the safe erasure technologies that would ensure that even those sectors are overwritten. Overwriting is possible, but one can never be certain that data has been fully destroyed, thanks to their wear leveling methods.

Physical destruction methods or crypto-shredding see below are your best bets. Or simply, avoid storing sensitive data on flash drives altogether.

Know the regulations

In a nutshell, this method is reasonably safe for most applications, and it is also the most economical one, as the hard disks can be reused afterwards. Crypt-shredding is an alternative to data erasure sanitizing methods. It differs in that the data is not really deleted. Instead, what is deleted are the encryption keys. Without them, the data cannot be accessed — it looks a lot like random gibberish instead.

Media destruction best practices

Of course, it requires the implementation of encryption to be effective. All data written to the disk must be encrypted. This method is useful for cloud-based systems, where you might not have total control over how your data is deleted. That way, no one can access the data at least in theory. The method is as safe as the encryption method that is employed. The current strongest encryption methods seem safe, but it remains possible that in the future, they will be solved and trivial to break.

Verity Systems Data Destruction Auditor (DDA) software

But by then, the data might not be relevant at all. Keep in mind that some encryption methods or means to obtain encryption keys, such as pseudorandom number generators can have government-installed backdoors that make it trivial for them to access your data.

Best Practices for Media Destruction | [email protected]

This has not been proven as of yet, but it is a possibility. Degaussing is a method used to wipe data from magnetic-based disks and drives. This includes VHS tapes, cassettes, reel tapes, floppy disks, and hard drives. Almost all but the latter can be re-used after degaussing. The reason degaussers destroy the hard drive is that, along with data, they also remove servo firmware without which the hard disk cannot function, even though it is physically intact.

Degaussing permanently destroys data by altering the magnetic field of a magnetic storage media. Degaussers are specially constructed machines optimized for such purpose.

Retention and disposal

The NSA maintains an approved degausser list. For a complete list of NSA-approved storage device sanitization equipment, visit www. For the highest level of protection, you would want to combine a data erasure standard such as NIST with physical destruction. This way, even if your devices are solid-state drives SSDs , which store information in tiny amounts of physical space that a shredder might miss, you still have the added security of the data already having been overwritten.

For example, the U. A professional data sanitization company like CompuCycle can sanitize your devices to any level you specify, as well as provide an inventory report and either a Certificate of Data Sanitization or a Certificate of Data Destruction depending on the sanitization method used upon completion, for regulatory compliance purposes. After physical destruction, using a trusted vendor is the safest approach for data disposal.

Research Data Management Toolkit: Retention/Disposal

However, there are free programs that can help you render your data unrecoverable at a set standard, such as DBAN, an open-source data wiping tool. Your email address will not be published. The NIST outlines four different types of data sanitization: Disposal : Simply discarding paper documents or other media with non-confidential information. Clearing : Rendering electronic data unreadable and irretrievable, as in data overwriting. Note that just hitting the delete key does not meet this standard.