Information management not only governs safe storage and retrieval of data but also spans secure data disposal or destruction. Be it at a personal level or at the organisational level, data is a valuable entity and when it falls into wrong hands, it is bound to lead to a host of problems. Both businesses and individuals are increasingly embracing the digital media for communication and documentation. It, therefore, calls for handling electronic data with care. While there are several different ways to permanently destroy confidential waste, one needs to be aware the disposing digital data is not an easy task by any means. Here are a few factors to consider while addressing electronic data disposal.
The Real Picture
Data is stored in different formats, across different electronic media, and each media has its own destruction mechanisms and standards. Large companies make use of professional help to manage their information security concerns. As for the common user who normally stores data on the hard disk, CD or DVD, let us note that simple file deletions do not render a clean slate. Deleting a file, simply removes the link between the file name and the disk space where its contents are stored, indicating that the space can be used by the system to store some other data. This very blatantly indicates that by using the appropriate tools and software, a tech-savvy person (even the data owner, with some learning) will be able to recover content from deleted files on the hard drive. The same applies to files stored on other media such as CDs or DVDs.
There are primarily two approaches to safely and efficiently destroying data. One method is to wipe the hard disk or media drive clean with the help of appropriate tools; and the other approach is to physically render the disk unusable by irreparably damaging the surface. It has been found that repeatedly overwriting the same file 7 times using random binary number renders the data too garbled for recovery. Tools are available to erase data completely from the media, be it one or more files or an entire drive.
As for obsolete disks; a hammer, electric driller or even a pair of scissors, when used well serves the purpose. Physical shredding of e-waste using industrial grade shredders is the most secure data destruction technique adopted by across the world to carefully handle sensitive information. The process actually results in dust granules of hardly 3-mm dimension. Hardcopies of documents anyway can be safely destroyed in bulk using paper shredders.
There are several tools that are available to selectively clear files from the disk permanently. The DOD-7 is supposedly one of the best among the methods of secure data deletion, having been mandated by the US Department of Defence.
Selective file deletion tools such as Eraser, Wipe File and DeleteOnClick are specific to the Windows OS; Wipe Package from Ubuntu and Permanent Eraser do the job for the Linux and Mac environments respectively. Wipe Disc can be used to erase an entire drive on Windows as well.
There is, however, one secure data shredding tool that can be used across all different operating systems, Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN). This tool can be downloaded for free from the Internet and should be used only when the contents of the disk or drive will never be needed by the user in the future. DBAN can be loaded to any portable storage media right from floppy drives, CD, DVD to flash drives and used to boot the PC, wiping clean the specified drives. The user will be able to use different binary patterns to overwrite the content. The entire disk can be swept clean in one shot using the ‘Auto Nuke’ option.
Personal ID thefts and misuse of business or financial data can be well addressed by adopting relevant and secure data disposal methods.