What is degaussing? Whether it’s your personal computer or a hard disk drive containing information about clients, it’s likely that at some point you’ll need to get rid of an old electronic device.
Technology needs to be disposed of in a safe and secure manner—you can’t just throw it away once you’re done using it, because all the information will still be on there.
What is degaussing? What are degaussers?
When searching the internet for ways to dispose of old electronic devices, there are usually two options that pop up when it pertains to data erasure—software wipes and crushing. There’s a third option that hasn’t gained the momentum in the mainstream media it deserves, but it has certainly gained recognition in the data security industry. Degaussing stands as the only verified method of securely wiping data from a device, and when paired with crushing, it forms an excellent one-two combo.
But first, let’s look at why software wipes don’t work as well. CNet reported that this method of removing data from a hard disk drive works best when you want it to be usable after the fact—for resale purposes, usually. But for organizations tasked with protecting client data or keeping compliant with laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, turning a profit off of these old devices isn’t the main priority—safe record-keeping is.
Software wipes simply overwrites the data on the hard disk drive and serve as a rudimentary approach to denying access to important information. Data hackers can still find and pull the data stored there. It also takes hours to conduct, and don’t always work on every system. This lack of security should be extremely alarming for companies looking for an easy way out of disposing old media.
Organizations need to ensure data is safely erased before getting rid of old media devices.
Use a safe one-two combo of Degaussers and Crushing
Microsoft reported that if you’re looking to erase data from any electronic device that has personally identifiable information, it should only be done in accordance to government standards. The National Security Agency has identified degaussing as the only surefire way to ensure data is truly wiped from a piece of technology.
Degaussers utilize magnetic fields that effectively demagnetize the device, thus erasing the data. By leaving the electronic in a blank state, organizations are assured complete safety of their information—a diagnostic laboratory wouldn’t even be able to retrieve the data.
“Degaussing and crushing form a potent one-two combo.”
Unlike software wipes, which don’t work on failed hard disk drives that still hold information, products like Proton Data’s T-4 Degausser work on any kind of device and can penetrate any media with up to 15,000 Gauss.
What is degaussing? Degaussing is not the only thing you should do to insure data security. While degaussing is the only safe method to remove data from a piece of technology, companies usually go one step further and pair their data erasure methods with crushing. CNet reported that once data is wiped, organizations can remove or destroy the platter on a hard drive to ensure complete certainty the information is unattainable. While most people believe that if the platter can’t spin, then the hard drive can’t be read—but data can actually still be recovered from the device. This is why degaussing beforehand is incredibly important.
After that, companies should consider using a product that effectively crushes the device, or have some fun and do it on their own. Any method that will render it into tiny pieces is ideal. But, before taking a sledgehammer to media, make sure to erase the data. Even tiny pieces can be put together and information can be salvaged if not properly disposed of.
If your organization needs to dispose of old media containing personally identifiable information, consider using the two-pronged approach of degaussing and crushing. Not only is it fast and safe, but it will keep the business in the clear of any potential compliance breaches.
Hard Drive Disposal: Data destruction done right
The idea that physically destroying a hard disk renders data secure is a common fallacy in the business world. Yes, if you shred, drill through or crush a hard disk, an average person won’t get information from it. However, data forensics units or similar specialists can. In cases of industrial espionage the information is often valuable enough to be worth the effort. Because of that, organizations cannot simply reformat drives, physically destroy them and move on.
Hard disk degaussing provides a major edge over physical destruction alone in hard drive disposal. A degausser will disrupt the magnetic forces of a hard disk, rendering data impossible to capture and making the drive useless. Properly destroying a hard drive is a key process during office moves involving computing system decommissioning, and degaussers are often the best option. Organizations using degaussers can:
At a minimum, companies must purchase degaussing wands.
Use high-end degaussers to wipe servers and similar systems with resilient hard disks.
Deploy shredders to simplify physical disk destruction once data has been removed.
Decommissioning hard disks can prove complex because of the combination of environmental and data protection standards involved. Hard drive disposal is not as simple as hitting a hard drive with a hammer or a screwdriver. However, degaussers simplify the data destruction process. Organizations that invest in a degausser on-site can maintain chain of custody with relative ease. From there, using a shredder makes physical destruction easier, leaving scrap available for collection and proper disposal. In conclusion, clearly documented data destruction processes supported with the right hardware can simplify an office move and keep data safe.
Recent statistics point to a growing trend—one that cybersecurity experts will want to stop, rather than watch flourish.
Between 2006 and 2015, the amount of reported cyber incidents that targeted the Federal government grew 1,300 percent, according to Network World. This is just one of the many signs pointing toward the need for increased security and better training among employees.
Not just governments at risk
The Federal government serves as merely a microcosm of the greater issue. Cyberattacks are occurring far more rapidly than ever before, and employees not associated with IT simply don’t know how to prevent them.
This is entirely self-evident, as there were just over 5,500 reported cyberincidents in this sector alone in 2006, yet by 2015 that number had skyrocketed to over 77,000, according to Network World data. While some of the fault can be attributed to the growing complexity of the methods in which cybercriminals are deploying to steal data, a recent Experian study reported that roughly two-thirds of companies believe their employees aren’t knowledgeable enough to prevent these attacks, therefore becoming the organizations’ biggest security flaw.
Sure, people in this day and age should know better than to click on a link in an email sent out by a foreign prince looking to give a benefactor millions of dollars—but what about the not-so-noticeable hacking attempts?
An alarming number of people don’t understand how data resides on a hard disk drive or tape. This becomes a big issue when companies roll out new batches of computers and other equipment.
Hackers don’t need ransomware to steal client information, all they need is an employee to leave a hard disk drive in the open.
Prevent easy hacking attempts
The bottom line is, many businesses don’t realize that when they’re throwing away retired electronics without permanently erasing the data that was once stored on it, they’re essentially handing out confidential information to hackers. Cybercriminals can retrieve data from hard disk drives with ease due to the fact they’re magnetized. This means that an employee could reformat it, wipe it clean with a software program or even smash it to bits and pieces and a data breach could still occur. This is why degaussing has to be incorporated in any training program a company devises.
Degaussing demagnetizes hard disk drives and tapes, rendering them completely unreadable and unusable. This, coupled with crushing the device, ensures that even the world’s foremost forensic hacking specialists couldn’t retrieve the data once stored on the device.
For many companies, a data breach could sink their reputation, operating budget and nearly drive them out of business—all because an employee thought moving a file to the recycle bin that contained thousands of personal client details got rid of it for good.
Stopping the rise in cybercrime begins by building a solid foundation of knowledge from which workers can draw from. The Experian study also found that roughly 4 out of every 5 data breaches can be attributed to some operating issue stemming from employees—training them on degaussing can help stem the bleeding and keep companies away from hackers’ clutches.