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Green, Secure Electronic Disposal Possible For SMBs

You can clean your closet of electronic junk without adding to a landfill or abandoning all hope of data security, says an expert.

Lamont Wood

August 13, 2010

2 Min Read

You can clean your closet of electronic junk without adding to a landfill or abandoning all hope of data security, says an expert.Old computers may pile up in your closet, but simply throwing them away means that whatever data is stored in them becomes fair game. And putting them in the garbage just dumps their composite chemicals, some of which are nasty, into the environment.

But they don't have to take over the closet. Christopher Dougherty, quality and process manager at Intelligent Decisions, a computer services firm in Ashburn, Va., has specific computer disposal advice for the SMB.

First, determine your county's e-waste collection program, and participate. They probably have some kind of regular recycling day, and on that day you can drop your decommissioned computers at the designated site, confident they will not go to a landfill.

But before that you need to decommission them, which means wiping the hard drives clean. For the occasional PC disposal, he suggested using Secure Erase, DOS-based freeware from UC-San Diego. It overlays all existing data tracks on the disk, genuinely erasing whatever was there previously. (Deleting a file with the operating system, of course, only drops the link to it, while leaving the file's data on the disk.) However, a complete wiping can take several hours for a large disk.

Dougherty therefore suggested that enterprises that are regularly disposing of computers might save time by investing about $700 in a magnetic erasing wand, which will scramble any electronic media it is passed over. Incidentally, those old hand-held magnetic degaussers, intended to erase magnetic tapes, won't work (except on tapes) he cautioned. Degaussing a tape takes between 200 and 400 oersteds of magnetic flux, while a hard drive takes about 5,000 oersteds.

As for Intelligent Decisions, they serve a lot of government clients, including ones who require security clearance from their disposal service. For them, data wiping is only used for units that will remain within the same organization, Dougherty explained. For those that must be disposed of completely, they degauss the hard drive and then shred the unit. The resulting particles are sorted with a centrifuge and sent off for recycling, he explained. The process is witnessed and certified for each machine, and there has never been a security incident, he added.

For other organizations, donating wiped machines to Goodwill Industries is a viable option, he said. This charity, through its Reconnect partnership with Dell and with support from Microsoft, refurbishes the machines and resells them. However, they do not operate in all cities.

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