Effective Data Security When Recycling Corporate E-Waste
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Effective Data Security When Recycling Corporate E-Waste

Effective Data Security When Recycling Corporate E-Waste

Posted on 17th January 2019

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In today's progressively digital world, data security is just as important as its physical counterpart. Sensitive data stored in servers, laptops, and any other form of e-waste can be compromised any time there's an attack by a malicious entity. 

Sensitive data can be any of the following: 

- Trade secrets 

- Employee personal information 

- Customer's financial and personal information 

- Passwords 

- Corporate financial records 

- Corporate VPN access 

- Lab data 

Not clearing data can lead to disastrous, permanent results. 

Consider the following examples 

Scenario 1

An employee of a financial institution is tasked to discard an old laptop computer, which he only tosses in the skip bin at the back. A week after, a distraught customer reports that their identity was stolen and someone was using their credit card for unauthorized purchases. After an investigation, it was found that the old, discarded computer was the source of the data compromise. 

Scenario 2

Workers at a high-risk facility, i.e., a nuclear power plant or a financial institution are normally given their own unique PINs, computer passwords and others, which are stored on a computer system. It's not uncommon for employees to write down their passwords on work laptops or smart phones. 

One day, you got a new iPhone and you're so excited that you forgot to clear its data and threw the old unit in a public trash bin. Someone gets the phone, hacks the phone and steals the sensitive data contained within. The whole company is put at risk due to a massive security leak, and you find yourself without a job the following day. 

Stuxnet is a real life scenario of what would happen when data security is not observed to the fullest. A computer virus disrupted the operation of an Iranian facility by throwing off their centrifuges' rhythm, thereby destroying precious specimen. It started with the insertion of a USB flash drive and spread almost immediately. 

The moral of the story? Cyber attacks can happen anytime, anywhere and when you least expect it. Best practices help minimise data breaches, especially in the aspect of recycling corporate e-waste products. 

How To Completely Wipe Data From Hard Drives, SSDs and Smartphones

The exact point of compromise occurs when the device needs to be repaired, discarded or recycled. It's not enough for users to hit the delete button, because the data can be recovered. If you'd want to completely, unequivocally destroy the data contained within a storage drive, then the only solution is to physically damage it. However, this is not recommended because electronic devices can rather be wiped clean and reused. Corporate recycling programs will serve both your firm and the environment by minimizing e-waste. 

Here are effective data security measures companies can take: 

iPhone Devices

The first thing you should do is unpair all your other accessories or devices from your iPhone. Then, process a backup so everything will be saved in Apple's servers. 

Sign out of your iCloud account by going to Settings, tapping on your name and scrolling down to the bottom where it says "Sign Out". Hit backspaces until your Apple ID and password is erased, then tap on Turn Off. 

To Clear Up All Data 

Step 1. Settings 

Step 2. Click "General" 

Step 3. Scroll down to "Reset" 

Step 4. Select "Erase All Content and Settings" 

Android Phones

For Android devices, you'll need to sync all the apps to your Google account. Head on over to the Users and Accounts, choosing Account Sync and hitting the Sync Now option. Wait for the process to be completed, then go ahead and back up all data. Get to Settings, check Backup and opt to "Back Up to Gdrive". 

To Clear Up All Data 

Step 1. Settings 

Step 2. Click System 

Step 3. Scroll To Reset or Backup 

Step 4. Factory Data Reset 

Step 5. Reset Phone 

Hard Drives

For older disk drives that use magnets, there's a time-honoured method to wipe data clean and avoid any compromise. The Gutmann Method utilises 4 random write patterns quickly followed by a pattern that ranges from 5 to 31 done randomly. For good measure, 4 more random patterns round out the wipe. 

This type of erase obscures data so only the most advanced scanning software may have a chance of recovering information. 

Solid State Drives

SSDs are the newer types of hard drives that work just like your USB thumb or Flash drive. Its algorithm spreads out stored data to wear out the blocks of memory equally. 

Unfortunately, the Gutmann method won't work here, but there is emerging software that can process a complete and safe data deletion to avoid security and data compromise. Corporations may have their own utility programs to do this, but if not there are two trusted programs that should do the job quite well- GParted and PartedMagic. 

For SSDs that are set to encrypt data automatically, it's wise to delete the encryption key from your computer so there's zero chance of retrieving the information contained within. 

Effective data security means both employee and customer information and all sensitive data are safe and in the right hands. 

Stewart McGrenary, Plunc

Plunc is one of the UK’s leading online recyclers for high tech electronics, for everything from iPads to smartphones.

Posted in Guest blog, News


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