Shoot Your Data to Save Your Secrets?

Recently, I cleaned out a storage closet with old hard drives and backup tapes. Although the physical media was obsolete and useless, not so for the data embedded.   Electronic media is a treasure trove of secrets for identity thieves and other crooks.   My backups included tax returns, financial data, and legal docs. Including of course a thief's delight of birthdates, social security numbers, and credit card details. I pondered. How do I safely dispose of old hard drives and backup media?   The time had come to finally decide.
  One option was to use a utility program that 'wipes' media by writing ones and zeroes, in several passes. In theory, a great idea. But more work than I wanted to undertake. Furthermore, I no longer had reading devices for the older media.
I considered companies that pick up old computer equipment and provide 'certificates of destruction'.  Hmmm. Was I really going to trust my secrets to someone who hauled my data offsite for processing?
I posed the 'safe disposal' question at a recent Provisors meeting of the Information Technology Affinity Group (ITA).
Lenny Gordon, CPA had the most provocative solution. He likes to remove old hard drives from his computers and shoot holes in them! Lenny helpfully identified his weapon of choice as a Yugoslavian SKS.  'Makes big holes'.
Less dramatic, but equally effective, David Oderberg, TerraSage Technology, will disassemble old drives and drill holes in them. With that physical destruction, the data becomes unreadable.
Chris Brooks, Three-Dot Solutions favors the sledgehammer approach. A tad messy, but so satisfying. Excellent for reducing stress-- no yoga mat required. For non-sensitive data, Chris notes that a quick reformat only takes a minute or so.For those who prefer data destruction methods less dramatic than a gun, drill, or sledge hammer-- shredding is an option. Asher Dahan, Accurate Data Networks, recommends this approach for the highest level of security. 'I like to see the actual shredding'.
Beyond computers and laptops, readers should be aware that many printers and copiers also have hard drives. Before you donate any such equipment to schools or other charities, remove or 'wipe' the hard drives.
Ken Hagopian, Digital Systems Consulting, moved the discussion from destruction to security breach prevention. He advises companies to limit the confidential data that employees keep on their computers, laptops, and other devices. Ken recommends policies that place sensitive data on central servers, where IT professionals have more tools to manage and protect their data.
I also asked cyber-security expert Stan Stahl of Citadel Information Systems to weigh in. Stan's preference is to wipe (erase) the data to mil-spec standard--if the drive is operable. Otherwise, physical destruction is the way to go.
Back to shooting holes in drives with guns, this fun solution is apparently more widespread than I realized. MBSG IT Consultant Arthur Press likes to use his old hard drives for target practice. His weapon of choice is the M4 Special Purpose Rifle, which he fires accurately from 1,000 feet. That's three football fields!  Not a solution we recommend for MBSG clients, but very effective for Arthur--with his law enforcement training and skills.
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With all of this wonderful advice, I was ready to dispose of my file box with old drives and backup tapes. In the end, I chose on-site shredding. A truck came to my office and parked out front. The driver picked up 12 file boxes of paper files and one full box of electronic media. He loaded the paper and metal into separate shredders on the truck. I watched as the shredders grinded and groaned. Very comforting.
 My box of secrets is safely in shreds.
 Bob Michlin, MBSG, is a business systems consultant. He helps companies streamline, integrate and automate their workflow. Expertise includes systems for inventory management, accounting, ERP, distribution, manufacturing, and ecommerce.  MBSG helps companies plan, deploy and use IT infrastructure and information systems in the cloud and on the ground.