Secure Hard Drive Destruction to Protect Your Privacy

Secure Hard Drive Destruction to Protect Your Privacy

When drafting cybersecurity policies, many IT professionals forget about an important and dangerous threat vector: old hard drives. Every computer workstation and multifunction printer an office employee uses has a hard drive that is likely to contain sensitive data. This can be company data that the employee saved to his or her desktop for ease of use, customer data kept in pre-cloud emails, or even the employee tax data.

While new business systems rely increasingly on the security benefits of cloud storage, older systems did not have this advantage, and had to keep sensitive data available locally. This makes hard drive replacement a unique cybersecurity concern. Simply erasing data is not sufficient to ensure that it never falls into the wrong hands. The actual means by which data is erased is very important.

Erase, Delete, or Wipe? The Physics of Secure Hard Drive Destruction

Secure hard drive destruction is a business necessity because of the way computers handle data. While Delete has entered the common lexicon to refer to throwing unneeded files away, Deleting data is distinct from Erasing, Shredding, and even Wiping data.

  • Deleting only tells the operating system that a particular file is no longer needed. The hard drive is free to write data over that file if and when it needs to. The data itself physically remains on the drive until it is overwritten.
  • Erasing tells the operating system to delete the file and then write a random collection of 1s and 0s over it, rendering it impossible to recover. Overwriting data is the important step to secure hard drive destruction.
  • Wiping is the process of erasing all data on the hard drive. Whereas you can erase a single file or a single application, you can only wipe an entire system, overwriting its data with a useless random information.

What About Formatting?

Most computer users have some experience with formatting hard drives. While formatting a hard drive seems to remove all of the data on it, it does not erase the data.

On early versions of Windows, formatting simply deletes an entire hard drive partition without overwriting the data it contains. As of Windows 7 onwards, normal formatting procedure involves overwriting the partition data with a one-pass write-zero overwrite. This process protects your data from most commercially available file recovery software applications.

Overwriting deleted data with random number sequences is even more effective. However, advanced hardware-based recovery methods can retrieve data after a one-pass write-zero overwrite – but these methods are expensive and difficult. Only a determined, highly capable cybercriminal specifically targeting your organization would take the time to perform a hardware recovery.

How to Protect the Data in End-of-Lease Equipment

Old desktop workstations represent a key risk when it comes to protecting company data, but more modern equipment must also be taken into consideration. For example, modern multifunction printers feature hard drives that store incoming data while preparing it for print.

Since a large number of organizations lease their print fleets, the data kept on the outgoing equipment’s hard drive can easily be accessed if it falls into the wrong hands.

For instance, Sharp office equipment features several cybersecurity features that speak to this need. Not only do Sharp multifunction printers immediately encrypt incoming documents, but they also offer automatic and manual memory clearance options. This prevents data from remaining in the system after completing print jobs.

However, the most important feature addressing the need for secure hard drive destruction in Sharp printing equipment is random number data overwrite functionality. The manufacturer’s print equipment can perform up to seven consecutive overwrites, providing unparalleled end-of-lease security to offices.

Sharp multifunction printers conduct hard disk overwrites alongside RAM overwrites for print, copy, and scan functions. For fax functionality, the devices conduct a flash ROM overwrite. This ensures that devices reaching the end of their lease cannot be abused by malicious parties.

In order to protect the sensitive data your organization is entrusted with, you must take a close look at every device your company leases and assess the risk it represents. Anything with a hard drive can potentially be misused after it leaves the office, so implement a secure hard drive destruction policy that keeps corporate, employee, and customer data safe.

Smile can help you implement a data destruction policy that ensures sensitive information does not get into the wrong hands. Find out more today.