Summary: Data Sanitization is a sure-shot way of ensuring that all data erased is irrecoverable, even with the most advanced forensic equipment. Data Sanitization plays a vital role in data lifecycle management and data protection. Businesses must securely sanitize devices to erase confidential information that is no longer required to maintain data security and stay compliant. In this blog post, we will explore data sanitization and why it’s crucial for businesses to meet regulatory compliance.
IDSC (International Data Sanitization Consortium) defines data sanitization as “The process of deliberately, permanently and irreversibly removing or destroying the data stored on a memory device to make it unrecoverable. A device that has been sanitized has no usable residual data, and even with the assistance of advanced forensic tools, the data will not ever be recovered.”
In this digital age, information is increasingly stored electronically and communicated using larger and more complex datasets. In addition, there has been a steady increase in the use of mobile devices, Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, cloud-based storage systems, portable electronic devices, and various other electronic methods to store sensitive information. It is more important than ever to protect your confidential and sensitive data comprising business-critical information, customer records, PII information of employees, PHI, etc. Data sanitization becomes more critical for organizations to maintain data security while retiring or decommissioning IT assets. Government and private businesses are naturally inclined to adopt secure data sanitization policies to prevent data loss and breaches.
What is Data Sanitization?
Data sanitization is permanently removing all traces of sensitive, ROT (Redundant, Obsolete, Trivial), and dark data from a device before it is retired, disposed of, or reallocated. The data sanitization method, as per SERI, is logically removing data, making devices reusable, or physically destroying data devices, making them redundant. Logically sanitizing data devices using a software program like BitRaser helps to sanitize the device and maintain records of sanitization called the certificate of erasure. You may note that a ‘factory reset’ is not considered logical sanitization. We have stated the same in our blog on the Myths of data erasure.
Data sanitization is achievable using overwriting or software-based data erasure, physical destruction, or cryptographic erasure. Organization can decide their data sanitization method based on the type of media they are sanitizing. Their data destruction policy must be formulated after weighing the pros and cons of each data sanitization method. Organizations can decide the media sanitization methods based on NIST guidelines concerning the different types of data storage media, such as magnetic storage, flash memory-based media, RAM and ROM-based storage devices, etc. You can refer to our detailed article to get a deeper understanding.
Interestingly, data sanitization is integral to Privacy Preserving Data Mining (PPDM), Association Rule Mining, and Block chain-Based Secure Information Sharing. These processes, like PPDM, require the transfer and analysis of big databases that contain sensitive private information. This information must be sanitized before it is available to companies for analysis. To prevent this private information from being compromised, it must be sanitized using appropriate data sanitization software.
Importance of Data Sanitization for Regulatory Compliance?
Various laws and regulatory compliance bodies mandate data sanitization for safeguarding sensitive information in end-of-life IT assets, returning leased IT assets, or reselling, repurposing, or donating. However, regardless of how carefully you handle your data, the chances of a breach can be high if proper sanitization techniques are not adapted and followed.
Depending on your industry, different laws and regulations require organizations to secure trade secrets, proprietary information, sensitive data, confidential & critical information, PHI, PII, and other sensitive data. Industry certifications and standards give organizations a framework of best practices, including techniques and procedures for data sanitization, to help them comply with these regulations. Several notable laws, regulations, and standards have been discussed below:
- GDPR: The flag bearer of data privacy regulations European Union’s GDPR paved the way for customers to have greater control over their data. Article 17 allows EU customers to remove their data permanently from business databases, which requires data sanitization, preferably with erasure reports for audit purposes.
- CCPA: In the United States, it started with CCPA, which, like GDPR, gave Californians greater control over their data and strict privacy controls. It also requires permanent data erasure of customer data when requested.
- Japan APPI: This data protection act covers entities beyond Japan’s national borders as long as they provide goods and services to Japan. APPI protects data categorized as PII and under special categories like racial identification, religious beliefs, medical history, etc. Penalties for breach are as high as JPY 100 million per episode or imprisonment.
- SOX: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, or SOX, serves as the protector of businesses, shareholders, buyers, and sellers in the securities market. Trading companies store huge amounts of financial, personally identifiable information about their customers. Safeguarding this data through the data lifecycle and ensuring sanitization once it reaches end-of-purpose or the device reaches end-of-life should be a part of data security policies.
- GLBA: The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, a federal legislation in the United States, governs how businesses classified as “financial institutions” handle nonpublic personal information, or NPI, about their customers. Financial institutions are required under GLBA to maintain the security, confidentiality, and integrity of all NPI, including names, addresses, phone numbers, bank statements, social security numbers, credit histories, etc., of their customers. GLBA violations are subject to harsh penalties, including imprisonment.
- HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act’s main objective is to grant individuals greater control over their Protected Health Information (PHI). It also requires safeguarding the PHI during the data lifecycle and sanitizing it once no longer required.
- PCI DSS: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard PCI DSS helps guard against payment fraud and stop risks to cardholders’ private information. It requires all financial information to be permanently erased once it’s no longer required.
- New York Senate Privacy Act: The purpose of the NY Senate Privacy Act is to give New Yorkers their right to privacy by requiring businesses to get their permission before processing their customers’ data. The law mandates that businesses delete all unnecessary personal data at least once a year or as soon as the consent period is over.
- NIST 800-88: NIST Guidelines for data sanitization are frequently regarded as best practices for all industries that deal with sensitive data. Government contractors must adhere to certain standards and employ relevant policies to implement the NIST SP 800-88 suggested guidelines for media sanitization. You can read our articles to know more about NIST Clear & NIST Purge
- ISO 27040: The standard for data storage security ISO 27040 prescribes data sanitization as the best approach to provide data storage security for deleting data stored on various storage media.
- ISO 27701: The prominent standard for data privacy & protection ISO 27701 has various sections advised for permanent data deletion for safeguarding data or honoring data removal requests.
- R2V3: It is a sustainability standard for the safe management of used electronic equipment covering the full lifecycle of electronics. Vendors dealing with the recycling and reuse of the electronic device industry require this. Core R2V3 requirements under Appendix B provide clear guidelines for data sanitization based primarily on NIST 800-88 standard.
- CMMC: CMMC is a mandatory certification that requires all DoD contractors and other covered entities to ensure that before disposing of or repurposing storage, data sanitization has to be performed on all media devices containing Federal Contract Information (FCI).
Governments and private businesses should design and execute data sanitization guidelines to prevent data loss and leakage, minimize the impact of data breaches, reduce attack vectors for malicious entities and mitigate security incidents.
Looking Beyond: The Future Prospects
With the continued growth of big data and the increasing importance of data security, data sanitization is poised to become an essential part of any business’s information management strategy. In addition, the data sanitization market can anticipate an immense boost from the increased adoption of a circular economy that promotes reuse, refurbishment, recycling, and repair. It increases the lifespan of goods, including electronics, and allows them to be repurposed, keeping healthy assets out of landfills and immensely reducing the impact of E-waste. By taking the time to understand what data sanitization is and how it works, you can ensure that your business is properly protected against potential threats.