Tough approach to sensitive data
- 01 June, 2008 22:00
Public servants about to trade in old computers now have a drastic way of ensuring that no unauthorised persons are able to access politically sensitive material from the discarded hard drives. The technique uses a unit called a degausser to apply a strong magnetic field that destroys any conceivable chance of reconstituting the original material. One problem for those concerned about recycling used computers is that it also wipes out the hardware in the process.
In addition to politically sensitive material and departmental policy information, a major issue for service agencies and instrumentalities is the potential for confidential details of clients to be retrieved from discarded equipment.
A common technique has been to overwrite the data area with long strings of zeroes, in repeat procedures. The European Union specifies five passes and the US Department of Defence mandates seven.
But this is far from foolproof. This was illustrated by the retrieval of a hard disk from the crashed space shuttle Columbia after immersion in a lake for seven years, with the seals burnt off. Data forensic specialists still managed to recover the material on the drive.
For compromise-free security, officials can now obtain a Degausser DG.02, a hardware eraser released on the Australian market this month by Kroll Ontrack.
The Brisbane-based Australian technology services division of a US group is one of several specialist suppliers that are promoting improved security, data retention and recovery, and forensic analysis of legal material. The degausser applies a strong magnetic field to erase media in as little as four seconds, wiping everything including calibration and servo information used to guide the mechanical read components of a hard drive. A bank of sealed lead-acid batteries generates a large amount of DC electric current required for the degaussing.
"Simply deleting all of the files stores on a hard drive or other storage device before recycling it does not protect those files from being recovered," the Asia-Pacific general manager for Kroll Ontrack, Adrian Briscoe, said.
"The degausser is the safest insurance that an IT department has for ridding itself of potential legal liability when it comes to information leakage from an end-of-life appliance. This solution has the capacity to take IT security to the next level of zero tolerance when it comes to a potential data leakage."
The data protection companies competing for government business report a surge in interest in data security solutions, including erasure software and hardware.
Planning for this should be part of the lifecycle management for any government databank installation, the companies argue. This covers tape cartridges, thumb drives, servers, laptop and desktop hard drives and external hard drives.
· New hardware eraser technology applies a strong magnetic field.
· Data on hard drives can be wiped out permanently within seconds.
Fairfax Business Media