Weapons of mass data destruction

Whether you opt for in-house or outsourced disposal, you should by now have realised it really is imperative procedures for the secure disposal of data, including the hardware upon which that data may reside, are included as part of your enterprise information security policy.

This cannot be overstated, and that policy should form the base for all data erasure and hardware disposal procedures. It is also essential, as nicely highlighted by the NHS Surrey case we previously mentioned, that data erasure and hardware destruction are not treated in isolation.

If the company doing the disposal had followed a documented process of logging actions as they were performed, and had first erased the data and then destroyed the hardware, that Trust would have been 200,000 better off.

While it is a given that implementing a method of secure data erasure and physical destruction of the drive in combination is going to provide the most reliable method of permanently disposing of data, we cannot state categorically that this is the most sensible option for everyone.

It is essential, therefore, that any data disposal policy includes a method of classifying data and categorising it in terms of confidentiality and value.

Common sense must prevail. While all data may be equal when it comes down to bits and bytes, when it comes to data value, then some is more equal than others. It is essential, therefore, that any data disposal policy includes a method of classifying data and categorising it in terms of confidentiality and value.

Government bodies use a system of Impact Levels that classify data as being from IL1 through to IL5, and the disposal methodology varies according to the classification it bears. This may sound a little secret squirrel for your average company, but the principle is perfectly logical.

There is no point hiring a van with an industrial shredder on the back (yes, they do exist) that will all but disintegrate any drives thrown through it if the data involved could be safely degaussed or overwritten to prevent it being read when the drive is reused.

The cost efficiency side of data destruction shouldn't be overlooked either. If your data can safely be erased without a regulatory requirement for the drive it was sitting on to be vaporised, then it makes sense not to destroy it.

After all, a computer with a functioning hard drive has a greater resale value on the second hand market if you take that route with old equipment, and a functioning drive can often be repurposed within the business as well.

Finally, ensure your data disposal policy is kept up to date and covers all bases. By that we mean an end-of-life policy must consider all methods of data storage from desktop and LAN drives through removable media, mobile devices and the cloud. The latter will, of course, open up a whole new can of regulatory and practical worms, but that's an IT Pro story for another day.

Davey Winder

Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist specialising in cybersecurity and privacy matters and has been a Contributing Editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue was published in 1994. He's also a Senior Contributor at Forbes, and co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project that won the ‘Most Educational Content’ category at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards.

Davey has also picked up many other awards over the years, including the Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title in 2020. As well as being the only three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) Davey was also named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro Magazine called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 he was honoured with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism which, thankfully, didn’t end his ongoing contributions - or his life for that matter.

You can follow Davey on Twitter @happygeek, or email him at davey@happygeek.com.