These days, every business deals – at least a little – have to deal with sensitive data. From payment information to company plans, there’s always something that needs to be protected: That’s where data security comes in. Data security is simply all of a business’s plans on how to protect data from unwanted loss, theft, or manipulation. It has both digital and physical components, and any company without a data security plan is well-advised to create one ASAP. Data privacy laws continue to grow stricter, and the absence of data security could lead to fines and loss of licensing!
However, we wanted to discuss a key part of data security that even conscientious companies can sometimes miss: What happens when you’re ready to get rid of your electronic devices? Hardware should be recycled properly instead thrown in the trash so it doesn’t cause environmental damage: This is called e-waste (electronic waste), and businesses need plans to deal with e-waste that also follow local and state laws. But what happens to the data that’s still on the storage drives of all the devices you want to get rid of? Here’s what every company should know about dealing with this digital aspect of e-waste.
The Missing Part of Many Data Security Plans: Destruction
Data has to be destroyed before you finish your electronic recycling. The problem is that data is designed to endure: Simply selecting files on your computer and pressing Delete isn’t going to do anything – a thief and hacker could easily recover all data and look for things like personal customer finances, proprietary business information, lead contact information that can be sold on the dark web, and more.
That’s why a growing number of laws require robust data security that also has a plan for dealing with data on e-waste. And that means completely destroying the data on any hard drives so no one can ever access it again. Let’s take a look at what that means, and what steps a business should take.
Key Steps in Protecting Data When Recycling Electronics
As we mentioned, digital data is made to last. So how do you make sure it’s gone for good? Let’s start with the basics and examine what needs to be done.
- Have a Plan for Moving Important Data: Not everything on your business hard drives needs to be saved, but you probably have files that you will need to keep for reference or ongoing projects. If your company uses something like Office 365, then it’s easy to make sure those files are available in OneDrive, or other cloud solutions. You may also want to get external hard drives to migrate large amounts of data to hardware, so it can then be uploaded to a new device whenever you are ready.
- Wipe Your Hard Drive: Remember, simply moving files to the trash doesn’t really do anything. The next step is to wipe your computer or other device. Look for “hard resets” or “factory resets” that give the hard drive a good cleaning. For computers, you can also use disk cleaning software to remove or overwrite all data. This is a good start, but with persistence hackers can recover data even from a wiped hard drive (the FBI, for example, does this all the time during investigations). You have to go further.
- Remove Hard Drives If Necessary: It’s not really possible to remove all hard drives – they’re pretty built-in on smartphones and smaller laptops. But for larger electronics, try to remove hard drives whenever possible to make destruction easier. Then you can send off the rest of the computer to an electronic recycling center and deal with hard drives separately. This may help save money, too!
- Remove and Destroy Any Unwanted CDs or Memory Cards: Data is stored on these devices, too! If you don’t have any plans to reuse CDs or memory cards, then they should be removed and manually destroyed. Remember that many large copiers and other office appliances may also have memory cards. Some paper shredders are actually rated for CDs, and there are tools specifically designed to destroy them if necessary.
- Destroy hard drives: Now your physical hard drives and devices with hard drives are ready to be destroyed. And we’re not using that word lightly – you really should arrange for their full destruction. But this can be a challenge for businesses that have a lot of hard drives to deal with at once, so let’s talk specifically about how these drives can be destroyed.
Help with the Data Destruction Process
Once businesses used large magnets to destroy data on hard drives before throwing them away. This worked with early, fragile HDDs, but it doesn’t work today. Most HDDs on personal computers and external drives have been replaced with SSDs, which don’t respond the same way, and the HDDs left are built to be very resistant to magnetic damage. So you need something else.
Fortunately, a variety of services offer to shred and crush hard drives thoroughly so no data can be extracted. Full destruction of today’s drives is required, and remaining pieces should only be a fraction of an inch, guaranteeing no one can ever put them together again.
Remember, data destruction is an important part of managing business liability and privacy – in today’s data-driven world, it’s no longer optional. That’s why data destruction from services like Stream Recycling provide documentation for these services so that your company can prove it’s data handling responsibly. We also offer on-site prep and packaging for your electronics if your business simply doesn’t have enough time to go through all the steps we discussed here! Let us know how we can help.