What is the Best Way for Small Businesses to Destroy Data?

Pencil erasing 1s and 0s and Sadoff logo 6

Small businesses accumulate a lot of data. Put a computer in front of one person and over the course of a year, you would be amazed at how much sensitive data ends up on that machine. Multiply that by your number of employees and you can see how it can quickly get out of hand. What is the best way for small businesses to destroy data? We will walk you through your options.

Is Hard Drive Formatting an Option?

In all honesty, too many people use hard drive formatting as a solution to destroy data when in fact that’s not what it does. You can use a lot of metaphors in an attempt to describe formatting. Imagine your hard drive is a notebook filled with all kinds of data from the mundane to the sensitive, but it is all written in pencil.

When you move a “page” to the recycling bin and empty it, you are not erasing the page yet. Instead, you are making a little mark at the top of the page that tells you that the page is empty even though the data is still there. Now you no longer even see the data because when you see that empty tag you know the page is empty so you don’t bother reading.

Next time you need to write data, you grab any empty page at random to write it to. It could be a page that is still filled, but if it is marked as empty, you will use it anyway and just erase and overwrite old data as you go.

Formatting a drive is like marking all the pages in your notebook, including your operating system pages, as empty. The data isn’t actually destroyed until it is all overwritten. You can’t see it when searching through a file explorer but with special software that is readily accessible to anyone, you can take off your blinders and see the data that was written on every page even if it was marked as empty.

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When Should You Format a Drive?

Hard drive vaporizing

Hard drive formatting does have its uses even in business, though it is a good idea to consider just having the data destroyed any time you would normally think to format. The one situation in which formatting is acceptable is when you are trying to give a fresh install or drive to the same person who was using the drive previously.

Even if you are just prepping a computer for a new employee, you do not want to rely on a format alone. If your new employee decides to check out what was on the drive before the format, they will more than likely be able to find a way to do so even if you are limiting the apps they can use.

This could be bad for your business if the previous owner of the drive was in a more sensitive and trusted position than the new hire, but it can also be bad if that is not the case. Imagine a scenario in which one employee has saved some sensitive personal data on that old computer. It could be logins, it could be HR info pertaining to themselves, or even just basic personally identifiable information. Any of that could be used against your previous employee and you could be held at fault for it.

Read More: What is a Certificate of Data Destruction?

More Secure Alternative to Drive Formatting

You need to use real data destruction techniques and there are three generally accepted methods.

  • Overwriting — This option makes sense given our notebook metaphor. Imagine if instead of just marking each page as empty, you wrote new junk data over top of it. Now there is still a possibility you could see the original data below by studying pencil indents and the like, but it would be hard.
    This is why overwriting usually involves multiple passes. This works well on HDDs but with SSDs often very specific software that changes from manufacturer to manufacturer has to be used. This is the only method that generally keeps the drive intact and usable.
  • Degaussing — We all know high-powered magnets and computers do not mix. That is unless you are trying to destroy data. Degaussing digitally destroys the drive and its data.
  • Physical Destruction — This is honestly the best method to utilize. Imagine a paper shredder for that notebook except in order to put the confetti pieces back together, they would have to be absolutely perfect before you could read it. With physical destruction, there is no way any of your data will be readable again.

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Get Data Destruction Service for Your Business

If you need data destroyed, then Sadoff E-Recycling & Data Destruction is here to help. We can perform all three types of data destruction services. Not only do we have locations in Wisconsin and Nebraska, but we offer our services nationwide. If you need our help, reach out to us today!

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