Degaussing - The Basics and More
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If you're a businessperson, you should know that protecting personal and
company data is paramount and that you must exercise extraordinary diligence
when destroying old or unneeded data. Unfortunately, thieves have made big
business out of identity theft. We all remember the TV ad where a thief rummages
through your garbage, ready to steal your important paperwork and identity.
Many regulations and laws outline how to protect valuable information.
Federal and state laws like Sarbanes-Oxley, FACTA, HIPAA, and others have strict
rules about the protection and disposal of stored or recorded media. They all
stipulate that neither business nor individuals may dispose of anything that
has, or relates to, private information, without first eliminating the data. In
addition, most public, private and governmental entities demand that information
like tax returns, information, military and governmental data, trade secrets,
product formulas, software codes, etc. be protected. If you fail to comply with
these laws and regulations, you could pay a heavy penalty to the tune of around
$250,000 in fines.
Degaussing: How It Works
Erasing data through degaussing is one of the most secure ways to eliminate
information on magnetic computer tapes and hard drives. Degaussing refers to
when a magnetic field using an alternating field of sufficient intensity
saturates the media. The field is then slowly withdrawn or reduced and the media
is left in a magnetic neutral state, or erased. Degaussing also erases the servo
(a program installed on the hard drive by the manufacturer), rendering the drive
Some first time users are under the illusion that their degausser must be
National Security Agency (NSA) or Department of Defense (DOD) compliant.
However, this is a misconception, since regulations like FACTA and HIPAA are
only guidelines that neither specifically lay out a way to eliminate proprietary
data nor tell you which equipment you should use when doing so. They simply
state that you have to do it. Similarly, the DOD does not approve of anything,
but rather recommends. Though the DOD has recommended products in the past, it
has not tested or recommended products in several years. In fact, none of the
degaussers that degauss high coercivity tapes or drives today have been tested
by a single government agency. This does not mean newer degaussers will not
work. To make matters even more confusing, the DOD blessed some products years
ago, but those products have limited megabyte capacity and erasure capabilities
and are usually out of date.
Buying A Degausser: What To Know
Take present and future hard drive capacity into consideration when looking
for a new degausser. You should do this because within the last year, most
degausser manufacturers recognized a severe increase in gigabyte capacity and
have had redesigned their degaussers to match.
Don't pinch pennies when it comes to destroying sensitive information.
Depending on your company's specific structure, a new degausser could depreciate
over several years as a capital expenditure. I sometimes field requests for an
inexpensive degausser to erase today's higher capacity drives and media. I
equate this to someone seeking a heart transplant for the cost of an oil change.
Truth be told, hard drives and magnetic tapes have become far more complicated
in recent years. Diskettes, round reel tape, and tape cartridges are made of
gamma ferric oxide and are somewhat easy to erase. Today, computer tape and hard
drives are made of metal particle oxide. This material, together with the higher
capacity of smaller discs, makes them extremely hard to erase. Factors like
continuous duty machines, larger magnets and faster degaussing times lead to
higher costs, and you must be willing to allocate part of your IT budget to
equipment that satisfies your security requirements. After all, a new degausser
costs far less than a costly security breach.
Be ready to ask questions about the warranty and any other services provided
by the retailer when you go to buy your degausser. I highly recommend a service
that recertifies your degausser on an annual basis at little to no cost to you.
In fact, the DOD recommends testing each degausser at least once a year if
continued use is expected.
If you already own and use a degausser, do you know for sure if it is
properly degaussing your media and hard drives? Has anyone in your company read
the manual to see what its degauss capability is? For that matter, do you even
know where the manual is or if the degausser has ever been tested? Do you have a
security program in place to keep track of old drives and tapes? If you fail to
track such information, you could take on liability for "Avoidance of Tolerance
Risk." Not exactly a smart move for a savvy business. Degasser Services
Some companies choose recycling facilities or degausser service companies to
dispose of disks and information in an environmentally friendly manner. However,
this may lead to "Transfer of Liability" issues that many end users and
recyclers have no exist. Liability for any information on media does not
transfer from the originator of said media to the recycler\service firms, or one
that accepts the equipment. Failing to select the right recycling\service firm
can come back to haunt you. Better to ask the right questions from the get-go.
When you choose your recycler, be prepared to ask questions that cover
liability transfer obligations. You want to be sure that all stored media and
tapes are fully degaussed. Ask questions like "has the degausser ever been
tested?" "how old is it?" "will the hard drive be resold once it is
overwritten?" "how do you know it works?" In addition, make sure an
accountability program is in place to track the media's destiny or log the
drives before destruction. Asking the right questions will save your company
money in the long run. However, remember that the ultimate responsibility for
degausser liability lies with you.
Malfunctioning Equipment and Returns
Hard drive malfunctions may be caused by factors like board problems or
head-to-disc interference. In some cases, you can recover the cost of a drive
under warranty by returning it to the manufacturer. In others, you might have to
send the drive or tape to a reseller, who then forwards the media to the
manufacturer. In either case, the information already on the drive could be in
danger of compromise.
When returning a defective piece of equipment, remember that passing the tape
or drive to someone else does not remove you from potential liability.
Ultimately, responsibility for the information that resides on the tape or drive
still lies with your firm - no matter whom you give the drive to. For this
reason, you really need to know how your product will be handled. Use the
questions outlined above as a guide for finding out what will become of your
It's up to you to protect sensitive information by properly degaussing drives
and media. Ultimately, you should treat the data of others as you would wish
yours to be treated. Even when your information is stored on another firm's
media, you should not give up responsibility for its whereabouts and security.
These degausser tips and tricks should help you uphold your obligations and
avoid stress and liability.
Copyright (c) 2008 Peripheral Manufacturing, Inc.
About the Author
Peripheral Manufacturing, Inc. services and sells degaussers, offering yearly
certification service and degausser testing. How does your degausser stack up to
the competition? Find out today. Contact Peripheral Manufacturing at
http://www.server-room-furniture.com or call 1-800-468-6888 for more
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-02-09 21:51:54 in Computer Articles