5 Methods to Follow in Secure Data Disposal and Destruction

5 Methods to Follow in Secure Data Disposal and Destruction

By Marcus Ho

May 26, 2021

Searching for methods on data destruction

Searching for methods of data destruction

Data is a crucial asset for businesses.

Studies reveal that on average, organizations use 50% of their data to make business decisions. Such strong demand and use of data have led many businesses to invest millions of dollars in acquiring data.

But this also gives rise to a pressing question: how do you securely dispose of data that is no longer needed and protect your company from malicious attacks?

While there are many ways of data destruction and disposal, some are not in line with data destruction policies and there are others that may expose your business to cyberattacks.

This is why businesses should be familiar with secure data destruction methods before they write off unwanted, redundant, or obsolete data. In this post, we will discuss secure data disposal and destruction methods. 

Data Leak

Businessman looking through Virtual Reality glasses with DATA LEAK inscription, innovative security concept.

What is secure data disposal and destruction?

Secure data disposal and destruction refer to getting rid of data that is no longer needed in a secure manner. 

When you plan to reuse your electronic equipment or devices, physical destruction such as burning is not convenient. 

This is where secure data disposal methods come into practice. In this stage, you would delete, overwrite, or erase the existing data on a hard drive and use the space created to store new information. 

On the other hand, if you have no plans to reuse your electronic equipment, you can implement secure data destruction methods and make the data inaccessible to anyone. 

Here, you are cleaning the device of any data, such as physically destroying hard drives or mechanically altering the physical characteristics of IT equipment, such that malicious individuals cannot access the data in it.

If you are getting rid of your old IT asset or equipment, you may wonder why you need to dispose of or destroy data securely. After all, you no longer need the data nor the equipment. 

But that’s not the case because even though that confidential data might be of no use to you, it might get into unauthorized hands.

Here are four reasons that highlight the importance of secure data disposal and destruction.

1. Avoid identity theft or blackmail

Identity theft has become a common criminal activity online, where criminals use the personal information of individuals as their own to make purchases, apply for loans, or lure other people for personal benefits. 

If data is not securely destroyed, you risk having your information being used for criminal activities or impersonification.

2. Prevent cyberattacks

When data is not securely erased, it risks getting in the hands of cybercriminals who may use information such as email addresses or employee names to steal data and engage in corporate espionage. 

3. Prevent intellectual property theft

If data in electronic devices is not securely destroyed, the information kept on them, such as product designs and patents, can be used by competitors to gain a competitive edge or make copies of your design and sell it as their own.

4. Avoid negative legal implications

Most countries have strict data security and protection laws in place which require companies to dispose of data in a secure and careful manner.

For instance, in Singapore, the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA) imposes a financial penalty of SG$1 million, or 10% of an enterprise’s annual turnover in the previous year, whichever is higher, for violations.

Secure data disposal

Technician inserting a hard disk drive into a blade server in server room

5 methods to dispose of data securely

Reports concerning data disposal methods from business leaders are alarming. They indicate that some leaders are merely throwing away hardware that has reached their end-of-life, while others sell them without reviewing sensitive information. 

Clearly, most business leaders are paying little to no attention to their data disposal and destruction methods, thereby becoming susceptible to potential data breaches. Here are five methods to help you dispose of data securely and protect your organization.

1. Shredding 

Shredding is an irreversible and secure data destruction method. It ensures that the data in an electronic medium cannot be read nor reused. It is also called disintegrating. The advantage of this method is it is fast, efficient, secure, and cost-effective. 

You can use shredding on thumb drives, credit cards, motherboards, and even smartphones. Since it reduces the electronic medium to smaller pieces, it is ideal for highly sensitive data or environments. 

2. Erasure 

Another method you can use to dispose of data if you do not want to destroy hard drives is erasure. It is a method of overwriting hard drives such that the next user may not have access to sensitive information. The space left can be reused for different storage needs. 

Erasing does not alter the physical device and is ideal for devices used within the organization, such as mobile phones, USB drives, and hard disks. This data sanitization method may include basic formatting of electronic equipment with specialized software, military-grade wiping, or data purge. 

3. Degaussing

Degaussing is a method of destroying the magnetic field of a storage medium. When the magnetic field is destroyed, the data itself is also destroyed. With this method, you would use a degausser to erase the data on the storage medium.

The advantage of degaussing is it makes data completely unrecoverable. This makes it ideal for disposing of sensitive data on un-erasable disks. However, it renders the device valueless and may not work with other storage mediums like SSDs.

4. Overwriting

For most organizations, overwriting is the most common way to dispose of data securely. This method of wiping data uses software tools that encrypt the data, making it hard to decode or recover. It renders unreadable characters over the data. However, for advanced storage devices, overwriting may not offer hardened security.

While overwriting is cheap and relatively easy, it takes a long time to be accomplished and is not reliable. Nonetheless, it is a great way to securely dispose of data on electronic devices you would want to reuse. 

5. Drive destruction

Drive destruction includes shredding, burning, or crushing electronic equipment. The aim is to ensure the data on the storage device or hard drives is not recovered. 

With physical destruction, you must plan how to discard the electronic equipment since it will no longer be used. It is ideal for electronic equipment that is damaged or has reached end-of-life.

Take note that drive destruction methods such as crushing or burning (close to human habitant) are risky and can create more damage than good. It is also expensive because of the high capital cost involved in acquiring new equipment.

Hammering your SSDs is not enough. Pieces of your drive still contain sensitive information that can be accessed using forensic tools.

Destroying computer hard drive with a hammer. Removing important data.

The Takeaway

Data destruction is a very crucial matter, and organizations need to be careful about how they carry out themselves when disposing of E-waste or sensitive data. Failure to stick to proper data destruction policies or methods may open the floodgates of data insecurities leading to cyberattacks and business losses. 

To securely destroy or dispose of data, adhere to the correct data destruction policy, and find a method that works for your organization.

Consider educating your team to understand the importance of securely destroying data. If you’re unsure, reach out to a reliable data disposal and destruction company for help.

SPW is Asia's go-to solutions provider for data destruction, data erasure, IT asset remarketing, and environmentally-responsible IT asset disposals. Contact us and learn how you can incorporate an ITAD strategy into your business today. 

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