Summary: This blog sheds light on the crucial steps for IT administrators managing leased IT hardware especially during its return. It provides a list of Dos and Don'ts for securely returning leased IT hardware, giving emphasis on data backups, asset management, secure data wiping procedures, and effectively packing assets. The purpose of this write up is to highlight the importance of data erasure at the time of return of leased IT hardware in order to safeguard sensitive data and prevent organization from getting into data breach episode.
The gravity of erasing data before returning leased IT hardware is unquestionable. This task squarely falls on the shoulders of IT Asset Managers and Information Security officers (ISMS), and while it may seem routine, it carries profound implications, especially concerning data security. Failing to handle it precisely can lead to compromising sensitive information leading to data breaches, a serious concern. Returning leased IT storage devices demands secure data wiping, a meticulous process designed to erase data (sensitive & confidential) from various drives and devices. These devices include laptops, Macs, loose devices, servers and USB storage devices. In this blog, we will examine the essential do’s and don’ts of returning leased IT hardware and highlight the severe consequences of any inadvertent oversights.
Acquiring & Returning leased IT equipment
Leasing IT equipment offers benefits like acquiring assets with advanced technology at lower initial costs, predictable monthly expenses, easy upgrades, potential tax advantages, and reduced maintenance costs, aiding in budget management and operational efficiency. However, when these leased IT assets, like laptops, servers, Macs, Printers, etc., are to be returned post-completion of the term or usage, it is important to comply with the terms and conditions of the lease agreement to avoid any penalties or fees for late or improper return. Moreover, the leased IT equipment needs to be wiped clean of any information stored by the lessor to ensure that no data is leaked when a device changes hands.
Data security best practices sits at the pinnacle of priorities in this process. Every bit of data and all software must be securely erased from the equipment before return. A clear, end-to-end plan is vital for a secure lease return, starting from data wiping, followed by the safe collection, storage, and return of the leased equipment to the original lessor. This structured approach fortifies data security and streamlines the return process, meeting the core objectives of IT Asset Information Security. With these key considerations in mind, let us explore the dos and don’ts of returning leased IT equipment.
The Dos of Returning Leased IT Hardware
Plan & Prepare in Advance
You should create a plan for the return of leased IT assets prior to the expiration date in order to ensure a thorough assessment of the assets to be returned, backup to be taken, and confidential data to be wiped from the IT assets to be returned. Reconciling the leased hardware, including serial numbers, configurations, etc., is an important aspect as it serves as evidence in case of disputes.
Label Critical IT Assets for Secure Return
Asset management within an organization remains critical. All IT assets must have proper inventory and clear ownership and must adhere to the “Acceptable Use Policy” as per company-defined policies. Organizations should label IT assets in compliance with Annex A.5.13 of ISO 27001:2022 standard, utilizing labeling techniques such as physical labels, headers, footers, and watermarking to ensure data integrity and security. This approach safeguards sensitive information, streamlines asset management, and aids while returning the consignment of IT assets.
Backup Data Before Returning the Device
As an organization, you must develop a backup policy for backing data to prevent data loss even when devices are returned. For organizations that are ISO 27001:2022 certified, Annex A 12.3 of the ISO standard talks about backing data. Its annexure 12.3.1 mandates regular data backups and consistent testing. The ISO 27001:2022 standard states “Regular testing of backups is crucial to ensure that restorations will be successful and achieved in a timely manner. Monitoring and recording of backups should be implemented to ensure that they are occurring in line with the backup policy.” This needs to be adhered evenly for leased devices that are retur ned to the lessor. As per NIST MSP guidelines for service providers, a robust data backup procedure is important for data security and integrity. It necessitates meticulous planning to identify and prioritize files based on business significance.
Review the Lease agreement for T&Cs while Returning Devices
You must be aware of the terms and conditions (T&Cs) of the agreement including penalties for defects, damages or return of non-working equipment’s. Pack the equipment to be returned well so that there is no further damage while it is in transit.
Perform Secure Data Wiping on Leased Devices to be Returned
When preparing to return IT assets, perform secure erasure on the device to prevent unauthorized access or leakage. For a robust approach, you can refer to the NIST Guidelines for Media Sanitization, specifying methods like clear and purge with clear directives on selecting and verifying appropriate erasure techniques. This comprehensive protocol ensures data privacy and helps meet regulatory compliance.
The Don’ts of Returning Leased IT Hardware
Don’t Return the Leased IT hardware Without Checking its Condition
You should perform a thorough inspection of the leased IT hardware before returning it. This step is essential to avoid incurring extra fees and disputes with the lessor. Examine laptops for exterior damage, screen defects, and keyboard functionality; check desktops for case integrity and internal component condition; assess drives for operational efficiency; and verify the condition of peripherals like keyboards and mouse, along with the functionality of cables and adapters. Using a checklist can greatly assist you in this process, helping you identify and address any issues effectively.
Avoid Using Free Data-Wiping Software
When wiping data from leased IT assets, do not use free software. These software are unreliable and do not produce any certified proof of erasure. Choose a professional certified tool like BitRaser, which provides a Certificate of Data Destruction. This certificate is on NIST guidelines & proves that all data is securely erased, with no risk of data leaks. It acts as an audit trail and helps comply with global data protection laws like EU-GDPR, CCPA, and the likes.
Don’t Use Improper Packaging for Returning IT Assets
When returning leased IT equipment, it is essential to avoid using inadequate packaging. Improper packaging can damage the items, potentially resulting in additional fees. Always utilize the original packaging materials or those of equivalent quality to ensure the assets are well-protected and secure. Make sure to label your packages clearly and accurately. Adhere strictly to the lessor’s guidelines for shipping and handling. To enhance security, consider using tamper-evident seals to safeguard your assets during transit.
Don’t Assign IT Assets Return Task to An Inexperienced Personnel
When you return leased IT assets, ensure you choose experienced handlers who understand documentation, packaging, data integrity and can take ownership. Minimize risk by appointing experienced individuals who have relevant expertise and can follow the lessor’s instructions carefully.
Don’t Lose the Proof of Return
Losing the proof of return document when returning leased IT hardware can lead to significant issues affecting a lessee’s credibility and liabilities. This document is crucial as it confirms the return of the hardware in line with the lease terms and can serve as evidence of rent payment and compliance with the lessor’s policies. Without it, lessees may face disputes over the hardware’s return condition, incur additional charges, lose security deposits, and damage their credit score, complicating future leasing or borrowing opportunities. To mitigate these risks, it is advised to keep the document secure, create backups, and, in case it is lost, notify the lesser to obtain a duplicate copy.
As a business, you have the opportunity to safeguard your data and prevent data breaches when returning your leased IT equipment. It is crucial to protect your sensitive information by permanently wiping data from the laptops, desktops, Mac devices, servers, or printers you have leased. To ensure compliance with data security best practices and regulations, you can rely on certified data erasure software. For enhanced data security and compliance, BitRaser Drive Eraser is the recommended solution, among others.