The vulnerability of information stored on a computer hard drive has been recognized as a security risk for some time, but did you know that digital photocopiers and high-end laser printers also include a hard drive which can store and log all of your activity? Today’s copiers and printers harvest images of every scanned, faxed and printed document.
Think for a moment about the vast quantities of information that you routinely print and copy: personnel files, financial reports, legal documents and commercial contracts – even your own passport. Now imagine this sensitive information falling into the hands of an unscrupulous third party. Unless you take action, every time a digital copier or high-end laser printer leaves your control, all the data stored on its hard drive will go with it and you run the risk of falling victim to identity or data theft, according to Verity Systems.
Some copiers now include built-in systems which encrypt copied files so that they cannot be recovered. However this solution is by no means fool-proof as someone with the right forensic software may still be able to recover fragments of data. The only way to safeguard complete and permanent erasure is to use a degausser.
The process of degaussing is achieved by passing the media, in this case the hard disk, through a powerful magnetic field, which rearranges the metallic particles, completely removing any resemblance of the original data. Although in most cases this will render the hard drive inoperative, the cost of a replacement hard drive cannot be compared to the cost to a company if sensitive information falls into the wrong hands.
Organizations must also consider the strict industry standards and government regulations that are now being enforced to mitigate the risk of unauthorized exposure of confidential data. Security of data is a legal requirement under the UK’s Data Protection Act 1998. Ensuring the complete removal of all data from redundant equipment is essential to maintain the security and integrity of data and failure to comply could result in a fine of £500,000 or even a prison sentence.
The NSA (National Security Agency), an agency of the US government which is responsible for protecting U.S. government communications and information systems, has created a standard, now widely recognized as the agreed international security standard for the disposal of magnetic storage devices. They recommend that hard drives are sanitized (erased) with a degausser prior to their physical destruction. It is this standard that all government agencies and all responsible organizations are adhering to without question.
Whether you’re returning your copier to the leasing company, selling it on or disposing of it, degauss and then destroy the hard drive before allowing it to be removed from your business. It’s they only way to guarantee your data integrity 100%.
Data is stored in magnetic media, such as hard drives, floppy disks and magnetic tape. This is achieved by very small areas on the data surface called magnetic domains which change their magnetic alignment to be in the direction of an applied magnetic field. Degaussing, commonly called erasure, leaves the domains in random patterns with no preference to orientation, thereby rendering previous data unrecoverable. Proper degaussing will ensure that there is insufficient magnetic remanence to reconstruct the data.