The Importance of Data Destruction in Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity threats are on the rise worldwide. How does data destruction complement existing organizational cybersecurity efforts?
Organizational cybersecurity rightfully includes tools such as firewalls, network security, email protection, best practices for data collection and storage, and so on. What is often neglected, however, are strategies for dealing with IT assets that must be discarded or disposed of.
Out of sight, out of mind simply won’t do. Consider that these devices may contain sensitive data that can easily pose a cybersecurity threat to an organization. As such, data destruction processes are required to ensure that sensitive data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
What is Data Destruction?
Normally, the word ‘destruction’ carries a justifiably negative connotation. If your IT equipment is in good working order, why would you go through the effort of destroying it at all? Hard to make a case in such an instance, but what about IT assets that have reached the end of their usable lifespan, or equipment that is scheduled to be replaced with newer devices? In these latter cases, thorough data destruction is necessary to eliminate any traces of sensitive data that may be stolen and subsequently used against the organization.
Data destruction is the process of eliminating or otherwise rendering unusable data held on physical devices such as laptops, cell phones, or data centers, for example. In previous decades, before big data centers were the norm and documents were largely kept in filing cabinets, matters were far simpler. Shredding services could securely shred thousands of documents and any data stored therein.
This was a must back then, and it certainly remains that way today. The big difference, however, is that in today’s digital age, data can be stored in various formats on a wide variety of devices or on the cloud, thus creating various vectors of approach for cybercriminals. Consequently, Secure Data Destruction and IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) are now essential for modern businesses.
Common Methods of Data Destruction
When it comes to data destruction, simply deleting files is not enough. A cybercriminal can still access the file(s) with relative ease, so better, more robust methods must be used. Organizations that wish to have all sensitive data thoroughly and professionally destroyed cannot afford to leave it to chance, so the following methods are often used by ITAD companies:
- Degaussing: Powerful magnets essentially scramble all of the data stored on magnetic media, such as hard drives (except solid-state hard drives). See our Hard Drive Degaussing services for more information.
- Formatting/Wiping: A common method of data destruction, formatting hard drives or using dedicated wiping software can yield the desired results, but they lack the reassurance of physical hard drive destruction and may not completely render data irretrievable.
- Physical Hard Drive Destruction: IT equipment can be destroyed, including the data stored therein, via punching or drilling holes through the drive, or they can be shredded into coarse or fine pieces, thereby thoroughly destroying all data and making it practically impossible to retrieve. See our Hard Drive Disposal services for more information.
There are other methods of secure data destruction, such as acid-washing or disintegration, but the above methods are amongst the most cost-effective and practical methods used by ITAD providers.
Cybersecurity Risks Involved in the Data Destruction Process
Perhaps the most obvious cybersecurity risk pertaining to data destruction processes in most organizations in the US comes in the form of data breaches. Not only do data breaches occur far more frequently in recent years than previously, but the severity of the breach and the subsequent cost of remediating the breach has also increased commensurately.
A 2020 study by IBM revealed that the average cost of a data breach to an organization in the US was $8.64 million, far above the global average of $3.86 million. The direct costs can be crippling to many organizations, but the damage extends beyond a financial burden as clients or customers whose data has been compromised are far less likely to continue doing business in light of the firm’s lack of cybersecurity measures.
It has been estimated that by 2020, a third of all successful cyber attacks experienced within organizations would come from shadow IT assets. One method of reducing the risks of cyberattacks from shadow IT assets (i.e. non-company USB flash drives) is to maintain an accurate, up-to-date inventory of all IT assets in current use, including those scheduled for disposal. Such a system, when enforced, can minimize the exposure to nefarious shadow IT hardware or software.
One major source of data breaches comes from discarded IT equipment that has not had its data destroyed. All efforts by your organization to prevent cyberattacks over the network are useless if a savvy thief can retrieve sensitive data records from a discarded hard drive, for example. In order to mitigate this risk, professional ITAD services and comprehensive company-wide data destruction policies must be implemented and enforced.
Legal Compliance in the US for Data Disposal
Secure data disposal is not only essential for eliminating a major source of data breaches to organizations in the US but it is also enshrined in law. Nearly every state has passed laws regarding data disposal, with various fines and penalties for non-compliance depending on the state and on the severity of the incident.
Furthermore, various federal laws are in place to protect the privacy of individuals, such as HIPAA for the health industry, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002.
In addition to compliance with state and federal legislation, organizations must also have accountability in place through audit trails. For data destruction, ITAD providers should always provide Data Destruction Certificates that can be used in the event of an audit.
Why is Data Destruction Necessary for Cybersecurity?
Given that cybersecurity threats emanating from improper data disposal are a clear and present risk to organizations, a robust data destruction policy must be implemented and incorporated into the organization’s cybersecurity efforts.
The cost of a data breach, the increased frequency of cybersecurity threats, the severity of data breaches, and other threats such as identity fraud or ransomware attacks all carry the potential to cripple an organization. Whether your organization needs to discard older hard drives or you require professional data center decommissioning, secure data destruction services give peace of mind that your organization is exercising due diligence and that the cybersecurity risks are lessened.
Data Destruction is Essential for Cybersecurity Risk Mitigation
The optimal method of keeping your organization compliant with state legislation for hard drive disposal, data security, and privacy are to make IT asset disposition and secure data destruction core components of your cybersecurity strategy. It is therefore ideal to partner with a reputable, secure ITAD provider who will keep your organization compliant and safe from a major source of cyberattacks.