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Revisiting degaussing in light of Vista’s demise

Revisiting degaussing in light of Vista’s demise

 

The end of service life for a major operating system is often a tumultuous period for businesses. As most organizations purchase computers in bulk with pre-installed operating systems in place, businesses will frequently need to decommission and replace a large number of devices when the end-of-life period arrives. For companies using Windows machines, one such benchmark arrived in the middle of April when Windows Vista reached the end of its extended support life.

Disposing of a large number of machines makes data deletion a key issue for businesses to consider. If your organization is among the companies with plenty of Vista machines sitting around collecting dust, read on to learn how best to go about destroying the systems.

“Disposing of a large number of machines makes data deletion a key issue.”

What does end of extended support life mean?
At its simplest, end of extended support means that Microsoft won’t be making patches or updates for the operating system. Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows Vista in 2012, but that simply meant the operating system was no longer being promoted or receiving major feature updates. Security patches and updates, on the other hand, continued until the end of extended support, which hit on April 11, 2017. With security updates stopping, businesses may have had a small amount of leeway to replace devices before new zero-day vulnerabilities would be exploited, but the lack of updates means that every Vista machine connecting to the web is putting the business at risk.

An end of extended service life means organizations need to move on to a new computer or install a more modern operating system on the old machine. It’s also worth noting that Windows 8 will reach the end of extended support in January 2020, with Windows 8 following in January 2023. With such a defined life cycle strategy in place at Microsoft, businesses can get ahead and plan their decommissioning strategies accordingly. In the meantime, however, organizations must figure out how to destroy data on the hard disks that were in Vista systems.

Using degaussing during decommissioning
Destroying a hard drive isn’t enough to erase data. Instead, degaussing is the most reliable way to remove data from a disk. A StateTech report put degaussing under a microscope. The article explained that degaussing can be complex because not all degaussers use a similar method and the devices don’t provide feedback on whether the data was deleted. A disk will look unchanged. The report even noted that the National Security Agency recommends businesses accompany degaussing with physical destruction because a magnetic wipe involved in degaussing may not completely delete data if proper procedures are not followed.

This is useful advice. No data destruction strategy should have a single point of failure. All it takes is for a worker to pick up a disk from one pile, get distracted and put the disk down, come back a couple minutes later and forget if the disk was deleted, but mark it down as erased inadvertently, and that information is compromised. However, combining degaussing with shredding offers a back method in case any mistakes are made along the way.

“Degaussers provide the high-quality disk deletion businesses need.”

While avoiding single points of failure is important, it is also worth noting that the NSA’s advice, based on the StateTech report, identifies degaussers as a problem only because variances between different degaussers may lead to user error. However, the NSA has also certified some solutions for compliance with its standards, including our top-of-the-line degausser here at Proton Data.

Industry expert Michael Cheslock told StateTech that end-of-service-life periods can be especially vulnerable times when it comes to data management. He pointed out that a hacker working under normal circumstances will have a limited amount of time and exposure to data to steal it without detection. This is not necessarily the case when gaining physical access to media after its end-of-service life because many organizations stop monitoring those systems with as much care as they would active systems. With this in mind, it is vital that businesses trying to clear out old Vista machines carefully monitor how hard disks are stored and handled prior to deletion.

Using a chain of custody to keep data safe
Many organizations dealing with hardware decommissioning will store systems in an out-of-the-way place until they can ship them off to a data destruction specialist. This practice can be problematic because it makes it difficult to monitor the chain of custody for hard disks. All it takes is one employee to wander back to where systems are stored, grab a hard disk and walk away with access to corporate data. Investing on degaussers for in-house use can help companies avoid this problem.

By storing disks in a controlled environment and documenting access to them, degaussing those hard drives and then shipping them out for physical destruction and disposal, organizations put themselves in a position where the chain of custody is controlled until data is erased.

Degaussers provide the high-quality disk deletion businesses need as they deal with high-volume data destruction processes. As businesses make plans to dispose of former Windows Vista systems, taking advantage of degaussers can simplify and streamline the decommissioning process.

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