A Comprehensive Guide to Data Destruction and its Methods

When it comes to data security, only data storage shouldn’t be concerned essential, but its destruction also. The data that you don’t any longer need should be disposed of in a way and that it is not misused. If you cease to protect the information or data that you don’t require to store, it can lead to severe data breaches of data protection, privacy policies, added financial losses, and compliance problems.
And, whenever it comes to destroy data, organizations have a shortlist. The list sums up to three options:

Overwriting: The process that overwrites or cover data with new information
Degaussing: The process that erases the magnetic field of that particular storage media.
Physical Destruction: The process that employs methods such as disk shredding.

Experts, after their in-depth analysis, suggest that each of the above techniques has its set of benefits and demerits. And to be on a safer side, organizations use more than one method, e.g., Intel —the microprocessor produces employs all the three methods.
The data destruction business hasn’t seen much change in the past few years, and if there comes any new trend, then it becomes evident that the organizations already know about it. Especially, small organizations require more education about data destruction.

Typically, enterprise clients have a brilliant idea about how to deal with this, noting that the practices have comparatively been consistent over the past years, and sadly, there isn’t much to heed. However, for small businesses, it could be a big concern to look upon and decide what method should ideally be adopted. Among all types of companies, some questions on how to handle data that is in the hand of cloud computing providers.

This issue is put into a trial of a promise made by data center providers that, at the end of a contract, would destroy data and commit to this destruction in writing. But, this type of policy is almost non-existent for SaaS.

However, the storage architecture of the majority SaaS services possibly means that data coming from customers will swiftly be written over, and it would become impossible to recover as soon as it is overwritten. Also, the SaaS market has an almost negligible convention for the treatment of data of former clients on backup media.

Cloud services shape how data destruction is perceived and will be performed in the coming future. As most organizations are heading towards cloud storage, most vestigial data storage media are being killed off. Meaning, logical destruction for truly classified data is well-established as a norm in the future.

But, here, the issue is not destruction, but the discovery of the data—how to find the data and ensure that we need to destroy it.

For the on-premise data, organizations are required to look upon many factors before selecting a destruction method.
The first factor is- time worn-out on data destruction. For instance—is the company destroys a lot of data often?

The second factor is, of course, the cost. Is the company can afford data destruction, or are they looking forward to reusing them, or can they provide specialized destruction hardware?

Lastly, validation and certification— is data destruction a compliance requirement? What is the way to prove to the auditors/ regulators that you have met the requirements?

 Well, here are some advantages and disadvantages of the three data mentioned above destruction methods:

Overwriting

It is one of the most commonly used ways to address the data destruction issues–the remaining representation of data that stays on the storage media even after the erasure attempts. Since overwriting can be performed by software and can be used on a part or all over the storage media, it is a comparatively budget-friendly and easy option for some applications.

Advantage:

If the most significant advantage of this method is considered—a single pass is sufficient for the removal of data, as long as the regions for data storage are addressed.

The used software can also be configuring with specific data, files, partitions, or just the free storage space on the media. Overwriting is capable of erasing all the residues of the deleted data to uphold the data security, and of course, it is an environment-friendly way forward.

Disadvantages:

If the problem of overwriting is considered, it takes a long –long time to overwrite the whole high-capacity drive. Not to forget that this process might not be able to sanitize data from the regions in the disk that is inaccessible, for example, host-protected areas.

Additionally, nobody can guarantee security during the data erasure process, subject to accidental or intentional parameter changes. Also, the process of overwriting requires a separate license for every hard drive, and it is ineffective without good quality assurance processes.

Another demerit to consider is that overwriting process works when the storage media is not damaged and still can be overwritten.

As per the experts, in the future, most of the data destruction methods will become vestigial when the advanced storage management feature would be practiced. For example,- the usage of RAID implies that the data is written on multiple locations to bear the fault, which means that the data residue is scattered in such storage media architecture.

While security experts point out that overwriting can be cost-effective or cheaper, of course, it is not free; you still got to have the headcount to manage the cost affairs.

Few experts also suggest that overwriting is not a foolproof data destruction solution. There are areas where it can generate errors, and you might face a situation where data may not be fully overwritten or destroyed.

Degaussing

Another useful data removal method is degaussing. It is a process where the magnetic field of the storage disk. It is carried out with a device called a degausser, particularly designed for the storage medium being erased. Whenever applied to magnetic storage, e.g., hard disks, floppy disks, magnetic tapes, the process of degaussing can effectively and swiftly wash out an entire medium.

Advantage:

The significant advantage of this degaussing process is that it makes the data unrecoverable, which makes this data destruction method appealing, particularly while dealing with the highly vulnerable or sensitive data.

Disadvantages:

The downside of this process is that the degausser device can be costly and cumbersome. They typically have strong magnetic fields that can cause collateral damage to the sensitive equipment in the neighborhood.

Furthermore, degaussing can also create some damage to the hard drives that can be reversed at any cost. It destroys the special servo control data on the disk, which is to be permanently embedded. The journey becomes completely unusable is the servo is destroyed or damaged.

If in case the degaussing has left the disks inoperable, even the manufactures will not be able to fix the drives or honor service contracts and replacement warranties. The issue of securing the media is also there with the process of degaussing. And, the effectiveness of the degaussing is entirely dependent on the density of the drives.

Physical Destruction

Organizations also have the option of physically destroying the data in a number of ways, such as data shredding, melting, or any method that leaves physical storage media unreadable or unusable.

Advantage:

One of the significant advantages of this method is that it offers the highest assurance of absolute destruction of the data. There is no chance that someone will be able to or recover the data from a disk that has been physically destroyed.

Disadvantages:

There is no denying the fact that physical destruction can be a costlier way to get rid of the data. It is an expensive and not monetarily sustainable long-term method. This approach also disobeys the green and sustainable programs of the organization.

However, Intel has found that physical destruction is an efficient method of eliminating data while transporting the storage media for degaussing is not even practical or secure.

For instance, when the company is required to wipe the data away from a thousand drives in multiple locations, the options left are either degauss at various sites—which is costly.

Or, another option is to ship the drives to a secluded location—which can be risky, if the trip goes in the wrong hands.

Intel has been working with some contractors who would meltdown and reclaim precious metals, and someone suggested the idea of having these contractors meltdown the hard drives and recycled the melted metal. Well, with this method, there was no cost shock on the IT budget, and since metals were getting recycled, it was a green-sustainable idea.

Although the effectiveness of the physical destruction methods is dependent on how much the storage medium was destroyed. It is for sure that drilling holes in a hard drive can render the drive completely unusable, but not the data that is left in the unaffected spaces.

All three methods possess a few advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to you which way you would want to prefer for data destruction as only these three are available to date.