Contrary to popular opinion, magnetic tapes are not dead and still have a role in modern IT. Many businesses that do not use an archiving solution store their backup data on tapes. Businesses choose this option because it’s cost effective. The tapes are then kept onsite at a company facility or at an external tape storage provider. These tapes are kept until the retention period has expired, which in some cases can be longer than 25 years.
When time is up
After this retention period has expired, have you ever wondered what the proper methods are to destroy and recycle magnetic tapes? Or why is this important? There are several common methods of destroying tape data, but the security and reliability of these methods vary.
Is shredding a secure method of destruction?
Shredding tapes, if done properly, is the best way of making sure that the data is gone for good. If the shredding is not done correctly, technically it is possible for the tape to be pieced back together and data recovered, though in reality the chances of this (especially with modern tape, LTO specifically) are slim to none.
There is a high risk that data recovery is more likely the older the tapes are. Even after the media has been shredded, if there are longer lengths of tape still present, there is a good chance the data can be pieced back together.
What to do?
In order to be completely certain that your data has been destroyed securely, using a degausser is your most reliable method of destruction. A degausser will make the data unreadable, and in some cases, unusable. There are chips inside some tape types, and if these are damaged by the degausser, the media will not be unusable after that. But again, we must preface that some older media will be reusable after it has been degaussed.
How does it work?
The degausser works by passing a powerful magnetic field through the media, this either totally removes the film coating on the media, for tape this is usually iron oxide, or scrambles this coating so that the tape drive can no longer read the data that is written to it. Once the film has been removed, or the data scrambled, there is no way to piece this back together, making any attempts at data recovery impossible.
So always keep in mind: Without seeking secure destruction of tapes you put your company’s data at risk of restoration.
For more information about data erasure, visit https://www.ontrack.com/products/data-erasure/
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