November 2016 Article

Proper Client Data Destruction
By Jim Luger, CDEI
Certified Distance Education Instructor 

There comes a time when your client data is either obsolete, or beyond the period of time required to archive it. If it’s in paper form, the solution is simple: shred it. If it’s in electronic form, it’s a little more complicated. Let’s look at safe ways to destroy electronic data when it’s no longer needed.

  • CDs and DVDs - Shredding is the only real solution I know of. I’ve heard driving a nail through a CD will make the data irretrievable, but I won’t underestimate the cunning of a tenacious data thief, especially if he thinks you’ve got some good stuff on there, like social security numbers, account numbers, and birthdates. By the way, some data burglars are more interested in that data than they are in your 3-year-old desktop computer. Private data is very saleable — used computers are a dime a dozen.
  • Hard drives – You just bought a new computer, so what do you do with the old slow one? It’s probably heading for the recycle center or a non-profit organization that raises money by reconditioning used computers or selling their components. Either destination is fine, as long you first transfer the hard drive files to your new computer, and then remove and save it for eternal storage. Some people just erase the old computer files after they are transferred to the new one, but that process doesn’t actually erase all the files. It just erases easy access to them, but any techie worth his electrons could find his way past that attempted obstacle. And call me paranoid, but what if your new computer has a defect and crashes two months after owning it? (Yes, that has happened to me.) Even though I now use redundant remote backup systems, I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping the hard drive from every computer I’ve ever owned in locked, fireproof storage. Not so much for backing up after a disaster anymore, but more because I don’t know what else to do with them. I suppose I could drive nails through them, and then take them to the recycle center. But they take up so little room, just hanging on to them seems simpler.
  • Old flash drives – Delete the flash drive’s files first, then smash ‘em with a hammer, and when the little circuit boards pop out, smash it again. The resulting trash is recyclable.
  • Cloud data – When you unsubscribe to a cloud backup service where does your data go? No one knows. Maybe a better answer is that the company executives know, but they probably won’t tell you. And if they do tell you, you probably shouldn’t believe them. I don’t back up financial or other sensitive data on a cloud for that reason.

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