Do your hard drives really need degaussing? For the sake of IT asset recovery, other methods could yield better returns.

Degaussing is a common practice to destroy discarded hard drives on site. The urge to be cautious is understandable. But, the process renders the drives unusable and, consequently, bad for recouping value in secondary markets. If increasing IT asset recovery is the goal, entrust the task of data sanitization to your electronics recycler. 

Let’s take a closer look at degaussing and what you could do instead. 

To optimize IT asset recovery, pick the right method for data sanitization

Understanding the definition of degaussing

When it comes to data destruction, there are a lot of terms floating around: data wiping, data erasure, data sanitization, to name a few. Although people often use them interchangeably, they do not necessarily refer to the same process. But understanding their definitions is important since the method you choose has implications for how much value you can recoup from your retired IT assets. 

The International Data Sanitization Consortium (IDSC) — an organization of industry experts that strives to eliminate ambiguity around data sanitization terms, standards, and guidelines in order to help organizations adopt best practices — divides the methods for data sanitization into three categories: physical destruction, crypto erasure, and data erasure. Degaussing falls into the category of physical destruction. IDSC defines it like this:

Degaussing is a form of physical destruction whereby data is exposed to the powerful magnetic field of a degausser and neutralized, rendering the data unrecoverable. Degaussing can only be achieved on hard disk drives (HDDs) and most tapes, but the drives or tapes cannot be re-used upon completion. 

IDSC notes degaussing is an effective data-sanitization method to render the data unrecoverable. (Solid state drives, SSDs, are an exception.) But, physical destruction can be harmful to the environment and can destroy the asset beyond reuse or resale. Degaussing causes permanent damage to the storage system by removing the servo control data. Once the servo track is damaged, it’s not possible to correct. For the purpose of IT asset recovery, therefore, degaussing is not a wise choice. 

When degaussing is necessary

In some instances, you may have to use degaussing to satisfy a federal requirement related to the destruction of clearance-level information (“Classified” or “Top Secret”). But if you’re not restricted by such regulations, you can still sanitize your assets. You can deliberately, permanently, and irreversibly destroy the data stored on a memory device to make it unrecoverable — while leaving them in good condition for resale and optimized IT asset recovery. 

What to do instead of degaussing to optimize IT asset recovery

Many companies put their hard drives through degaussing before sending them for recycling. Some may be under the impression it’s the only safe method to destroy data. They may do it out of habit. Or, they are wary of shipping assets for recycling before taking action themselves.

But, given all the issues discussed above, it pays to work with an R2-certified  electronics recycling partner who can evaluate whether this practice makes sense. Your partner can recommend the most optimal method based on the nature of your business, the data at hand, and the stringency of the regulations that you need to meet. 

To preserve the integrity of the asset for resale while ensuring NIST 800-88 compliance (as well any other business-specific sanitization regulations), consider data erasure. 

This software-based method securely overwrites data from any data storage device using zeroes and ones. Data erasure is the highest form of securing data within data sanitization. It yields a tamper-proof certificate that the erasure was a success, along with data about the device and standard use. As a bonus, data erasure also supports environmental initiatives by prolonging the asset’s life cycle. 

Questions? Contact us.

If you have questions about IT asset recovery and which data sanitization methods to pursue, please don’t hesitate to reach out. At GER, we know every ITAD project is different. Count on us to create a customized asset recovery strategy that details exactly how we will recover value from your retired equipment — after we have sanitized all your data. 

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