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An Overview of Media Sanitization

Media sanitization is an important part of any system. It is important to determine at the outset whether it can be sanitized with built-in systems and interfaces or if other measures will need to be taken, namely destruction. Whatever industry you are in, if there are systems in place that store or process sensitive information, this is a very important process.

Why Media Sanitization Is So Important

Confidentiality is a must in many industries and media sanitization allows you to ensure that confidentiality – whether dictated by law or by best practices in your business – is strictly held. The most common way third parties and identity thieves gain unauthorized access to information is by pulling used and expired media from dumpsters and recycling bins.

That media, if it has any information stored on it at all, is a potential breach waiting to happen. Having a media sanitization procedure in place is a must to control the flow of information into and out of a business – whether as paper, equipment being repaired by vendors,  hard drives being removed after failure, or computer hardware being replaced due to age.

There are two types of media you must keep in mind:

  • Hard Media – This includes all printed materials, including things that few businesses control such as printer ribbons, platens, and drums, as well as the fax machines and printers used to print materials. Employees, vendors, and third parties digging through trash and recycling are all potential risks with this type of media.
  • Electronic Media – This includes anything stored on a computer’s hard drive, RAM, USB thumb drive, mobile phone, portable hard drive, or other office equipment with memory or storage of any kind.

In addition to these media types, there are new forms of media being developed all the time so having a preemptive media sanitization policy in place is a must to dictate how your company will respond to a new form of media you have never dealt with before.

Why Technology is Changing the Business

For centuries, media was more or less the same. Important information was stored in hard copy form and could be sanitized by destroying that media. In the last 50 years, however, magnetic storage on computer hard drives, discs, and chips has changed all of that. With new media being developed all the time and the size of media becoming smaller and higher capacity, it’s harder than ever to control the flow of information in even a small organization.

In the past, degaussing was used for magnetic media, but with flash media, it is not as effective as a means of sanitization. New research is being done all the time but in the mean time, the most effective method to deal with this type of media is through destruction.

For now, the following methods are used for sanitization:

  • Legacy Magnetic Media – Read/write sanitization involves writing 0’s to the hard drive in a single pass over the drive. Additional sanitization commands are needed to ensure all sectors of the hard drive are erased, not just the active ones, but it is effective on older drives.
  • Newer Magnetic Media – The current trend in magnetic media makes it smaller and capable of holding more data. As a result, the degaussing techniques long used to sanitize are not as effective – the magnetic forces are too strong. As a a result, flash drives and SSD hard drives need to be destroyed, but that requires more advanced equipment because even when ground down, the small components can contain data.

As you can imagine, media sanitization is a big deal for many companies so there is a lot of research going into the methods being used, the tools at our disposal and the challenges we will face as storage gets faster, smaller, and lighter than ever before. It’s one thing we keep an eye on as much as possible because it has such a big impact on our clients and how they do business.

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