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Common Data Cartridge Erasure Mistakes: Is Your Enterprise Protected?

Poor data security creates serious liabilities for any organization. Given the growing threats of ransomware, identity theft, and security-related litigation, many businesses have taken appropriate steps to safeguard their networks.

Unfortunately, many of these companies still rely on outdated data erasure techniques. Software-based data deletion needs to be handled carefully, which can mean hefty costs for larger tape libraries. Physical destruction is similarly expensive, and throwing data cartridges into a landfill can result in costly compliance violations (and that’s a best-case scenario).

To protect your business, consider whether you’re making any of these common mistakes when handling cartridges that have reached the end of their life cycle.

You don’t keep incomplete records of media sanitization procedures.

Poor recordkeeping can lead to costly compliance violations, particularly if the data in question contains personally identifiable information. Regardless of the size of your organization, you should diligently maintain records — including verification processes and third-party provider credentials — to demonstrate conformance with relevant standards.

Of course, recordkeeping requirements for data erasure vary substantially. At Total Data Migration, we maintain a complete chain of custody for all media containing sensitive data, and we have experience with safe (and compliant) handling procedures for medical, genetic, legal, and payroll data.

You assume that encryption key destruction (or shredding) is sufficient.

Cryptographic erase (or CE) greatly reduces the time allocated to sanitization. By erasing the cryptographic keys, this process renders the data on the device completely inaccessible, and it is generally considered a preferable method of partial sanitization.

The downside: With some types of data cartridges, verifying the erasure is difficult — and verification plays an important role in compliance. This isn’t to say that cryptographic erase techniques will expose sensitive data, but as we’ve discussed, documenting the erasure is as important as performing the actual process.

NIST Special Publication 800-88 lays out the most widely accepted standards for sanitization. The 2014 revision of the guidelines note:

“If verification cannot be performed, organizations should use alternative sanitization methods that can be verified, or use CE in combination with a sanitization technique that can be verified.”

The good news: Cryptographic erase can be properly verified, but the process needs to be handled carefully and correctly. When full sanitization is preferable, it’s important to understand the technique’s limitations and to take precautions.

You assume that all physical data tape destruction techniques provide the same results.

Tape cartridges are more durable than other forms of digital storage media, but physical destruction is certainly a possible — and reliable — method of disposal. With that said, some destruction techniques work more effectively (and cost less) than others.

Proper degaussing is typically the best option. Degaussing removes magnetism, preventing data recovery; however, degaussing still requires verification, and inexperienced personnel may make mistakes that leave a portion of the tape intact.

Other forms of physical destruction include incineration, shredding, and techniques that combine several processes (electronic shredders, for instance, might shred the tape while simultaneously degaussing the media). These methods may be unreliable or impractical at scale. Incineration, for instance, destroys the tape — but incinerating a large library of data cartridges isn’t efficient or environmentally responsible.

When retiring legacy systems, you handle tape erasure in-house.

All data erasure procedures need to be performed by properly trained operators. Most organizations develop extensive training processes and maintain appropriate oversight during partial data sanitization procedures — but when upgrading equipment, the risk of a mistake becomes much more significant.

Additionally, the standardized techniques used for everyday media sanitization may not scale effectively. By handling the job in-house, companies often spend unnecessary time and money, particularly when attempting to verify the erasure. Outsourcing data erasure to a qualified third party is typically the best (and most secure) course of action. The third-party should be able to provide a certificate of sanitization, along with chain-of-custody records and other appropriate documentation.

Total Data Migration can provide the expert services and guidance that your operation needs — regardless of whether you’re forming a sanitization plan, recovering from an image, migrating from a legacy system, or disposing of unusable cartridges. Contact us today to discuss options.