Data Erasure - Finally Putting Your Data To Rest

Thursday, December 31, 2009 by The Data Experts

People often contact Ontrack when they need to retrieve data that has become inaccessible through a hard drive crash, accidental deletion, or one of a myriad of other scenarios.  But where do they go if they absolutely, positively want their data destroyed or their hard drives “erased”?

When it comes to protecting your most sensitive electronic information, creating a clear data disposal policy is equally important to having a solid data retention plan.  Using a proven data erasure software product or hardware tool will go a long way in ensuring critical information does not fall into the wrong hands.

Many organizations have clear document retention policies that specify how long important data, such as financial or customer records, need to be kept.  But many of these same organizations do not have clear policies for handling data that no longer needs to be retained or for disposing of old PCs, hard drives, servers and other data storage devices.

Disposing Data Storage Devices

Simply “deleting” all of the files stored on a hard drive or other storage device before recycling it does not protect those files from being recovered.  Even a novice computer user could run a data recovery software program on the drive and recover many or all of the deleted files.

Physically destroying the drive using a power drill, hammer or other tools certainly reduces the possibility of data recovery, but Ontrack Data Recovery engineers could give you many examples of how they have recovered data from drives that were crushed, impaled, cracked and seemingly dead.

Your safest bet for ensuring that sensitive data is no longer accessible is to use a well-proven data erasure software product or a hardware device called a “degausser”.

Data Erasing Software

The spectrum of products that claim to “erase” data from a hard drive is wide and varied.  Erasure utilities can be found easily and cheaply (even free), but you get what you pay for as most of these applications simply erase your file “index” or do not go far enough in completely overwriting the data.  Newer enterprise-level data erasure software, such as Ontrack Eraser, offer a more complete and flexible solution.

Ontrack Eraser overwrites all traces of data stored on a device, making data reconstruction impossible.  Users can select from a number of widely recognized standards for erasure.  These standards are recognized by various government agencies, including the US and UK militaries.

Ontrack Eraser installs in minutes and uses a central server to handle reporting and licensing.  The flexible, intuitive interface gives you the ability to erase multiple drives at the same time, track erasure activity across your organization and receive authentication reports to clearly show that a storage device has been wiped clean.

Data Erasing Hardware & Services

An alternative solution to data erasure software is a hardware device called a degausser.  A degausser uses strong magnetic fields to demagnetize a drive – destroying the data in the process.  Some companies have chosen to purchase a degausser for their internal use, while others will contact Kroll Ontrack to perform the degaussing as a service.  In these cases, Kroll Ontrack can provide a certificate showing the drive serial number and confirming that the device was erased using a degausser.

Erasure Verification Services

Organizations that prefer to perform their own data erasing processes, and want confirmation that their processes have successfully destroyed all data, can contact Kroll Ontrack for erasure verification service.  As global experts in data recovery, Kroll Ontrack is ideally placed to conduct appropriate and rigorous investigation of your deleted drives and provide a detailed report confirming the data deletion and alerting you to any retrievable data on the media. Bottom Line

Why should organizations take such rigorous steps to ensure that data has been completely and verifiably removed from a hard drive?  While these procedures may seem overly paranoid, consider the risks of not taking such steps.

  • Theft of sensitive data: Leaving sensitive information on a desktop or laptop hard drive or other storage device that reaches the end of its life cycle puts your organization at risk for data theft.  Highly publicized data privacy breaches have damaged the credibility of many businesses and government entities and have often led to litigation.
  • Poor control of internal data accessibility: Using an erasure product or service on an employee’s computer after he/she leaves a company – and before that computer is given to another employee – helps limit access to sensitive information.
  • Regulatory compliance violations: Data privacy and retention regulations force organizations to both retain and dispose of certain data and prove that proper procedures are in place to maintain compliance.  Data erasure software or hardware will help your organization better meet these regulations.