Disposing of Old Equipment
If someone gets to your information in a disposed piece of equipment, it could get really ugly really fast. Even worse, there is a good chance the State Bar will consider this an ethics violation for failure to take proper precautions to protect client confidentiality. Malpractice claims are likely to follow suit.
There are several options for safely disposing of old equipment. Most are cheap or free and many options don’t require special software.
WIPING OUT HIDDEN STORAGE
What happens to the data on the copiers, fax machines or printers once they are taken away? Most copier and printer companies now include a hard drive destruction or formatting clause in their equipment disposal portion of the lease. Before your lease is signed, make sure that you understand what will happen to the data stored on those hidden hard drives in the copier. As long as it is part of your agreement that the data will be destroyed, you should feel comfortable with the equipment leaving your premises.
WIPING OUT STORAGE ON ACCESSIBLE HARD DRIVES
If you do have a computer that is less than five years old and you are interested in donating or selling it, you need to take measures to destroy the data on the drive. The options for software available to wipe hard drives can be a bit overwhelming. The list below provides some of the options available and their key differences.
• DBAN (www.dban.org). Overwrites entire drive. DBAN offers a complex variety of data sanitation methods to overwrite existing data. DBAN works by simply burning the download to a CD then booting it and following the easy to use instructions. DBAN makes erasure software for smartphones, tablets, flash drives, and servers. All at no cost to you, regardless of whether it’s for personal or business use.
• HDDErase. Overwrites entire drive. Like DBAN, HDDErase runs as a boot file from a download. HDDErase works from any variety of boot media, from CD to flash drive. HDDErase is available here: http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/
• zDelete (www.zdelete.com). Overwrites individual files and folders, but not entire drive. This is an electronic shredder type software that conforms to the US. Department of Defense guidelines for media sanitation. The full version of the software ranges from $29-49, for 1 to 3 licenses.
THINGS TO AVOID
Some options that remove data do not permanently delete items from the hard drive.
• Recycle Bin and Empty. This is the equivalent of taking the small trash can under your desk and emptying it into a larger trash can in a common area. The items are somewhere you can’t see them, but they aren’t gone. Perhaps the average user can’t locate them, but anyone with basic tech skills or knowledge to download the right application can quickly recover the files.
• Departitioning or partitioning the hard drive. Consider this to be the equivalent of knocking down a wall. It doesn’t actually destroy what’s on the other side, just rearranges the space. While this is labeled as formatting, your computer doesn’t actually overwrite the data, which means it is recoverable.
Properly preparing equipment for disposal can be a daunting task. If you don’t have someone in the office who feels comfortable taking on this responsibility, hire an expert to handle it for you. Hiring a professional will provide peace of mind that an expert will not overlook any critical steps in the data wiping process.
Obtaining professional assistance in equipment disposal is essentially the same as hiring a company for shredding or document storage. You’ll need to obtain a written statement regarding confidentiality, destruction methods, and indemnity should they fail to adequately destroy information.
THE QUICK AND DIRTY
If your firm is not interested in investing the time or money into “refurbishing” old computers, there is a “quick and dirty” option for the destruction of data on a hard drive. All of the data on a computer is stored in a removable hard drive. If the hard drive is removed, the data is no longer accessible. By removing and physically destroying the hard drive (with the equivalent of a sledgehammer), the data and physical hard drive will be destroyed. In most instances, the hard drive can be replaced for less than $100 plus the operating system.