Cloud service providers face a wide range of security challenges they must contend with every day. In this chaos, the simple act of deleting data often slips under the radar. This can prove incredibly problematic as cloud vendors decommission machines or end relationships with clients and must properly erase any data that is relevant to those situations. Failing to properly erase information can cause regulatory and reputational damages – not to mention the possibility of a lawsuit from the company that owns the data. However, actually deleting the information isn’t necessarily as simple as it may seem.

Considering the cloud data deletion challenge
According to a Storage Asia report, the inherent difficulties in deleting information are only compounded in the cloud, creating a somewhat bewildering information management ecosystem that can be incredibly difficult to manage effectively.

The difficulty in tracking down specific data sets is central to this problem. Cloud ecosystems tend to include a wide range of virtual machines that are being moved throughout the configuration based on demand at any given time. A virtualized storage environment, for example, may move databases across a few different storage arrays and hard disks depending on demand for storage capacity or processing performance within apps at any given time. Clouds are built with automation and orchestration tools that streamline this process for vendors, but this can also make it difficult to pin down specific data sets. The Storage Asia report explained that this inherent cloud complexity is taken to another level because vendors must also back up client data.

“Using physical disk destruction as a primary method for deletion is a faulty tactic.”

Because of all this, any information that needs to be deleted must not only be found in the first place, but organizations need to ensure they’ve identified all copies of the data. Furthermore, they may need to pin down hard disks where the information was deleted through a virtual method that allows some information to reside on the disk. All of these complications are leading to the rise of what Storage Asia called “zombie data” information that is thought to be deleted, but that actually resides tucked away in servers and storage machines.

Cloud vendors are working hard to move beyond these issues, and many are making progress. One of the keys in finding success is ensuring proper deletion of data, something that is nearly impossible without the help of disk degaussers.

Using degaussing as the foundation for data decommissioning
Many organizations will physically destroy a disk before moving it off site for disposal or otherwise getting rid of the hardware. While there are merits to such methods at the final stage of disk decommissioning, a TechRadar report explained that thinking of physical disk destruction as a primary method for deletion is a faulty tactic. While standard practices, such as drilling three holes through a hard disk, got their start in security-sensitive industries, the reality is that approximately 100 GB of data can be retrieved from a hard disk sliver the size of a fingernail. Simple physical destruction isn’t the answer.

As cloud providers work to delete data effectively, they must figure out exactly where information set for destruction has been stored and ensure those hard disks have been taken care of fully. The TechRepublic report explained that proper data protection hinges on maintaining a chain of custody through the entire deletion process to verify that nobody has tampered with disks or stolen information off of them. From there, organizations can use degaussers to perform a magnetic wipe of hard drives and fully destroy data. To find success with this method, the news source recommended ensuring that organizations understand the distinctions between different types of degaussers and use solutions that will be powerful enough to erase information on extremely resilient modern hard drives.

“Degaussing is widely recognized as the most viable way to delete information from hard drives.”

Deleting data isn’t a simple task
Cloud providers must track down data that has been moved throughout hardware with minimal human intervention. From there, they need to identify hard disks that may have trace quantities of that information and undergo proper procedures to erase those disks with modern degaussing systems. While this may sound complicated, there is some good news – leading degaussing systems are certified by regulatory bodies to verify their ability to properly delete data and protection an organization’s assets from theft.

A disk degausser simplifies what is otherwise nearly impossible – wiping data in such a way that it is unrecoverable from a hard disk. Software wipes leave small vulnerabilities that skilled data forensics experts can use to access information. Physical destruction leaves significant amounts of data recoverable. Degaussing changes the situation by removing all data from the disk through magnetic field manipulation. This can be followed by disk destruction or similar strategies to add another layer of protection, but degaussing is widely recognized as the most viable way to delete information from hard drives.

Cloud providers face complexity at every phase of data deletion – tracking down information, gathering backups and destroying a large volume of hard disks. However, investing in in-house degaussers makes it easier to maintain a chain of custody across the data deletion process. As a result, data is fully destroyed and cloud vendors can rest at ease that customer information is safe.