Data Erasure vs Degaussing

Data Destruction through degaussing and data erasure are methods of sanitizing the media – HDD, SDD, USBs etc. to mitigate risk and ensure compliance especially when storage media is disposed or reused. Government regulations, internal data security policies and industry standards with regard to data protection mandate the organizations to sanitize their data storage media prior to its reuse or disposal. Though the media sanitization techniques and standards may vary, the outcome is expected to be consistent —the data contained in the storage media shouldn't be possible to recover by any commercially viable data recovery method.

Let's look at standard methods of sanitizing the media and compare their advantages and disadvantages.

Method 1: Degaussing

Data is stored in magnetic media such as magnetic disk, hard disk, magnetic tapes. Degaussing eliminates the magnetic field from these storage devices by producing a magnetic field that neutralizes the magnetic particles and erases data from hard drive platters and tape films. In short, Degaussing disorients the domains in the random pattern, thereby rendering the previous data unrecoverable and leaving no scope for data-overwriting. However, the process also removes the startup files, thus rendering the hard drives (hardware) entirely inadequate for further usage.

Limitations of Degaussing

Degaussing may look easy but is risky for business. Some limitations are as below -

  • Generates massive e-waste: The e-waste produced from degaussing is one of the major sources of toxins and accounts for significant percentage of the total toxic waste.
  • Costly means of media sanitization: The cost of using a Degausser is high and recoverable for large organizations only. For small organizations and individual users, it is an expensive means of data sanitization.
  • Not suitable for media sanitization on all Drives: Technically, degaussing cannot erase data from electronic chips based on FLASH NAND technology including USB flash drives, SSD hard drives or flash cards (practically all modern storage devices).
  • Causes irreversible damage to media: Degaussing not just performs media sanitization, but also does storage destruction as it results in irreversible damage to the media (hardware).

The only advantage of Degaussing is it provides a permanent data erasure solution for media that is no longer suitable for reuse or has bad sectors.

With a list of environmental hazards and other limitations of degaussing, it would be good to measure the benefits of data erasure over degaussing.

Method 2: Data Erasure with software

A data erasure software overwrites the data (using zero and one) to completely destroy the electronic data residing on the hard disk drive and other digital media. Software based data erasure technique is unique, with below benefits:

  • Guarantees data sanitization across all IT assets: SSDs, flash drives and similar devices have proven to be difficult for media sanitization techniques like degaussing. With data erasure software, organizations can erase data from all media.
  • Retains the software for refurbished use: Data erasure software sanitizes the storage media with effective overwriting, thus helping in maintaining the hardware for refurbished use.
  • Eco-friendly media sanitization technique: The environment-friendly data erasure technique involves no e-waste, no risk, and no loss of precious metals as the software overwrites data and result in reusable storage devices.
  • Provides a certificate of data-destruction: The certification confirms that the data is erased securely and responsibly. BitRaser is a secure data erasure software that erases data as per DoD and NIST standards and generates certification.
  • Meets data erasure needs: the software meets the data erasure needs of large enterprises and small organizations, R2. ITADS, Government organizations and more.
  • Meets statutory and regulatory compliance: Provides tamper-free audit trails for data security and privacy for SOX, GLB, HIPAA, ISO27001, EU-GDPR, PCI-DSS and more.

Data erasure techniques are not suitable for Read-Only Optical discs; rest for all it is preferred method of media sanitization.

Data Erasure vs Degaussing

S.No. Data Erasure Degaussing
1 Eco-friendly means of media sanitization as erasure through software produces no e-waste Not eco-friendly as degaussing produces a large amount of e-waste

2 Sanitized Media can be Re-used. Media destroyed cannot be Re-used
3 Suitable for all media including magnetic and non-magnetic storage. Software erases data from USB flash drives, SSD hard drives or flash cards. Not-suitable for both magnetic and non-magnetic storage. Cannot erase data from electronic chips based on FLASH NAND.
4 Less time-consuming as a software-based methodology can be performed by the user also. Time-consuming as degaussing is performed by experts only.
5 Not suitable for read-only Optical media Suitable means of data destruction for read-only optical media
6 The software is scalable for multiple device erasure and saves time. Degausser is not scalable. One drive is degaussed at a time.

Effective data erasure is as crucial as data maintenance. No matter what erasure technique is used, it has to be a part of the consistent process and that it should be respected. The process should also define the responsibilities and the onus to maintain accountability. And never forget that data erasure techniques are a means to secure organizations from breaches, hence should not be mistaken for unnecessary impositions.

Conclusion

A detailed comparison of the two techniques data erasure and degaussing leads to the conclusion that both practices are certified data-destruction procedures, but data erasure with a certified software does not leave any residual data and does not harm the environment and hence scores better than degaussing.

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