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Controlled Demolition: Destroying Your Data Responsibly

by on March 5, 2012

One often-overlooked consideration in media management is data destruction. While storage and disaster recovery concerns attract the bulk of attention – and rightly so – organizations must protect their information throughout its lifecycle.

Why So Serious?

Data destruction is much more than a productive way to relieve stress; it’s a business imperative. As organizations enter the age of big data, it will be more important than ever to consolidate your archives and dispose of any disks and tape drives that hold obsolete or irrelevant information. In addition to improving efficiency, responsible data destruction also limits liability.

While many organizations are aware of how HIPAA, the PCI DSS and SOX affect data retention considerations, few understand the data sanitization or deletion provisions included in the regulations. Concerned by the possibility of heavy fines for noncompliant disposal, many IT departments are adopting a conservative approach to preservation and holding on to more information than they really need. This makes it even harder to keep track of tapes and disks and only increases the potential for data breach or theft.

What are my options?

Now that you understand the importance of data destruction, it is time to select the most responsible, appropriate method that aligns with your operations.

Overwriting allows organizations to essentially eliminate the data held on tapes and disk drives by covering it with new information. There are a number of affordable software solutions to facilitate this process, but the cost-effective strategy is not without its potential drawbacks. Successful overwriting relies on the assumption that old storage media has not degraded and is still usable, and it can take a significant amount of time to overwrite high-capacity drives.

Degaussing relies on high-intensity magnetic fields that corrupt and erase the data held on magnetic disk drives. While this method does completely destroy targeted information, the requisite hardware can be expensive and cumbersome. This strategy also has a tendency to damage the actual disk drive, eliminating the possibility for reuse or replacement under warranty.

Physical destruction of storage media can take many shapes, from tape shredding to disk melting. This strategy provides absolute assurance that your data has been deleted, but it can be costly. On the plus side, a number of recycling services have emerged to make it a more eco-friendly solution. However, involvement of third-party service providers can add new security complications and data must be accounted for at every step – from storage to transit to destruction.

It will ultimately fall on IT directors to decide which strategy aligns best with their objectives, but any approach must be diligently planned and documented to guard against internal complications or external sanctions.

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