Electronic sanitization is the process of erasing data irreversibly and permanently from a storage medium that can withstand keyboard and laboratory attack, thereby preventing data breach and misuse. Organizations who wish to dispose of their legacy storage device can either destroy (pulverize or shred) the media completely to ensure information security, or reuse the media after performing electronic sanitization.
In this blog post, we’re going to share the advantages of electronic sanitization in contrast with physical destruction of the storage device. We’ll also explain how organizations can utilize a secure data erasure tool to permanently erase files and folders to safeguard the privacy of their confidential data.
But before that, let’s explain the standards, controls, and best practices that are followed in an organization to take the media sanitization decision.
An information security compliant organization must:
Categorize the information stored on storage drives as Public, Internal, and Confidential.
Choose an appropriate type of sanitization method viz. Dispose, Clear, Purge, or Destroy.
Define security categorization as Low, Moderate, or High.
Use decision process flow to make sanitization decisions.
Storage Media Sanitization Methods
Dispose: Applicable for storage media containing non-confidential data whose loss won’t have any impact on the organization. The organization can discard these media readily without sanitizing. But it is encouraged to reuse, repurpose, or recycle the repairable or working digital storage media rather than disposing them, so as to reduce e-waste. When disposal is a must, the organization must follow all disposal instructions, as digital storage media may contain hazardous material.
Clear: Applicable for media that needs a level of sanitization that would protect the confidential data against robust keyboard attack but not from laboratory attack. Simple deletion of sensitive files won’t suffice for clearing. The organization that needs to reuse the media internally should perform clearing that involves the replacement of written data with random data. The process includes overwriting of the logical location of files and all addressable locations. This overwriting restricts any data recovery software to retrieve information from the drive. Overwriting cannot be used for storage media that are damaged, not rewritable, or based on flash memory cells that perform wear levelling. Thus, overwriting as the right sanitization method rely on media type, condition, and size. By the way, smartphones and tablets don’t support the ability to overwrite. In that case, Factory Reset is the only way to clear the storage medium.
Purge: Applicable for media that need a level of sanitization that would protect the confidential data against laboratory attack. Clearing media won’t suffice for purging, though clearing and purging have converged for hard drives. The storage media that would be used outside the control of the organization must undergo purging. Various techniques of purging include overwrite, block erase, and cryptographic erase (applicable for SSDs). Destructive techniques such as degaussing or firmware secure erase also purge magnetic media but make them unusable. Degaussing is an effective and efficient method for purging damaged, inoperative, and large-capacity media, but it isn’t suitable for non-magnetic media (e.g., optical media, flash memory-based media).
Destroy: Applicable for media that organization won’t use at all. For high-security categorization of information, the organization can decide to annihilate the media so that it cannot be used as originally intended. It is the ultimate form of sanitization in which the storage drive undergoes disintegration, pulverization, melting, incineration, or shredding as appropriate for the medium. They are typically outsourced to perform the activity safely and effectively. Organizations can even use paper shredders to destroy flexible storage media such as optical storage disks to reduce their dimensions to the nominal size of 5 millimeters and surface area of 25 square millimeters.
In electronic sanitization, files and folders present on the storage media are erased beyond recovery by using media sanitization software without harming the media. It come under the purview of clear or purge techniques, depending on the procedure used to perform electronic sanitization.
Benefits of Electronic Sanitization
Electronic sanitization has many advantages over destructive sanitization techniques. It helps an organization to:
Fulfill data security needs in an environmentally safe, cost-effective, and secure manner
Reuse storage media internally thereby conserving the organization’s resources
Donate, sell, or recycle old or unneeded storage media externally without data leak
Safely return the defective but in-warranty storage media to manufacturer
Securely dispose of storage media that are free from any sensitive data
Also, for home users and telecommuters who need to sanitize media, electronic sanitization is practical and safe.
Factors that Influence Electronic Sanitization
Organizations should consider the following factors before sanitizing a storage medium:
Type of medium (magnetic, optical non-rewriteable, flash memory-based)
Size of the storage medium (megabyte, gigabyte, or terabyte)
Condition of the storage medium
Confidentiality of the data stored on the storage medium
Volume of the storage media to be sanitized by type of media
Level of training of personnel with a sanitization tool
Cumulative cost of sanitization (tool, training, validation)
How to Perform Electronic Sanitization
Organizations can conduct electronic sanitization by using a data sanitization tool such as BitRaser File Eraser. Steps are as follows.
Download and install BitRaser File Eraser on your computer.
Run the data sanitization software and click on the ‘Tools’ tab.
Choose ‘Erase Algorithm’ and ‘Verification’ from the corresponding drop-down list.
Click the ‘Home’ tab and then ‘Search File’ from left tree-view pane.
Click ‘Search File by Name’.
In the ‘Search File’ text box, type the name or extension of the sensitive file that you wish to erase. Click the ‘Add File’ button. Add as many files as you desire.
In the ‘Search In’ box, choose the drive or folder where the file may be present. Select the ‘Exact Search’ checkbox to search specific files. Click the ‘Search’ button.
From the search list, click ‘Select All’ to erase all listed files or choose the required files for erasure.
Select the ‘Create Certificate’ checkbox.
Click the ‘Erase Now’ button. Click ‘Yes’ to confirm. Wait till the software completes the erasure process. When prompted to reboot, click Yes. Let the computer reboot.
You have successfully erased the sensitive file. You can navigate to C:\Program Files\BitRaser File Eraser\ to access the folder containing the data erasure certificate.
Organizations need to sanitize their old, retired, or inoperative computers or storage media for information security before repurposing, reselling, or disposing of them. Trusting electronic sanitization instead of drive shredding has several benefits, as shared in this blog. In electronic sanitization, the prime focus is on secure erasure of the stored data rather the media itself. In case the data cannot be securely erased, the organization can use other sanitization methods.
BitRaser File Eraser is a privacy safeguarding media sanitization software. It is an eﬀective and eﬃcient solution to erase confidential files, folders, Internet activities, application traces, system traces, and unused storage space that may contain deleted data. This file wiping software can help organizations as well as individuals to erase sensitive data from their computers or external storage drives securely. This helps them protect their data privacy and comply with the contemporary standards and laws.
Aruna Attri is a Senior Data Recovery Expert at Stellar®. She is a technology blogger and Windows expert. She has experience in Windows data recovery domain. She loves to troubleshoot Windows issue and write technical tips and tutorials.