You have some old backups on CD or DVD, maybe a hard drive (or three), maybe a dozen old flash drives. They are old, tired and ready to be pitched, but wait, how do you make sure no one gets your personal information off them?
You know old tax returns, financial records, emails, documents—all the stuff we gather over years of using a device? Not an easy problem to solve, now imagine you’re the Canadian Federal Government and you have government and citizen information to protect. Well that’s the challenge being laid down by Public Works right now—give us a digital wood chipper so we can trash all the digital assets we have securely:
The federal government has ordered a monster machine to chew up its discarded hard drives, USB thumb drives, CDs, and even ancient Beta videotapes. Like a tree chipper, the grinder will rip apart a range of data-storage devices into pieces so tiny that the sensitive information can never be recovered.
The Public Works Department is calling for “destruction equipment that performs disintegration, which is the physical demolition of electronic storage devices to particle sizes too small for data retrieval or reassembly,” says a recent tender document.
Right now CDs and DVDs can be chipped with higher-end shredders, but hard drives and flash drives? Cell phones? Yeah that’s another matter entirely. While I personally might choose something as pedestrian as an electromagnet or powerful rare-earth magnet, that’s only good for small time disposable, on a large company or government scale you need something a little more intense.
Yes, you can use software applications to wipe drives, but recent tests have found that new solid state drives (SSDs) are a wee harder to wipe securely than we previously thought (Sophos,Intego). The usual pattern of writing random information over and over on a drive (the good enough level is 7 times, the no hope level is 32 in OS X), doesn’t always work on SSDs because of the way SSDs store data. For those drives physical destruction (or maybe a kick-butt magnet) is the only way to be sure data can’t be recovered. Which isn’t an option when you’re trying to resell a computer.
Regardless of the challenges, I’m glad that the Canadian Government is aware of the problem and taking steps to deal with it.
Now if you’re excuse me, I need to fire up my wood chipper; I have some drives to take care of…