Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD. Whitepaper

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1 Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD intimus consulting is a division of the MARTIN YALE GROUP Bergheimer Strasse Markdorf / Germany Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD Whitepaper

2 Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD Summary Keeping digital information confidential is one of the most challenging requirements of modern IT. Protecting your systems, your information and yourself against the consequences of viruses, Trojan horses or unauthorized external and internal access is essential to all IT administrators. The threats here are clearly obvious and well known from daily experience. But there is another threat, probably even more critical than daily hazards the threat posed by information stored on expired endpoint storage devices like hard disk drives (HDD). Improper handling and disposal of these endpoint devices can put your entire organization at risk for data breaches and leaks of sensitive information. Data storage systems are reliable and robust, but they do not last forever. At some point, even the longest-lasting information storage devices will need to be replaced. Or if your data storage devices fail or have to be replaced regularly, the typical result is the same: you need to transfer the information and dispose of the old devices. This normally is managed just as part of daily business. In some cases there is even additional need for computer forensics. Everyone will take greatest effort to keep or retrieve all stored information. But what happens to the former information carrier and the information still remaining on it? Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 2

3 Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD Content You can t just press Delete 4 HDD overwriting rights and wrongs 5 Secure Erase ideal solution (for functioning hard disk drives) 6 Degaussing the gold standard for secure data elimination in all types of drives 7 Company Profile 10 Contact Details 10 Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 3

4 You can t just press Delete Most people s first idea might be to delete any critical files from the disk drive. This might sound like a really good plan, but unfortunately it won t work. Even if you press the DELETE button, the information does not entirely go away; it is still stored within your HDD and can still be accessed. In the old days, simply deleting files from a computer used to be sufficient. But with the development of modern HDDs, storage capacities have risen dramatically during recent years, but information transfer rates have not increased as quickly this means that those processes get more and more time consuming. Computer users needed a way to efficiently delete information, resulting in a compromise: with modern operating systems, whenever you press DELETE on a file, the path to the data is truly deleted, but the information itself remains stored and intact within the HDD. Modern software can detect and recover these data paths like detectives recover fingerprints; nothing on an HDD can remain hidden for long. This is the reason why deleting fails to securely eliminate data if an HDD falls into the wrong hands, all of its deleted files can be easily recovered and viewed by others. Another solution everybody would immediately think of is formatting the drive. But this solution fails as well due to the same reasons. As information carriers grew larger and able to store more data, formatting times grew longer as well prompting operating systems manufacturers to develop more time efficient ways to shorten the formatting process. The outcome was a high level formatting process that replaces the system meta-files without touching the information stored beneath. Just as with deleted files, forensic data recovery tools can recover all of this re-formatted data quite easily. Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 4

5 HDD overwriting rights and wrongs Since traditional solutions for data elimination typically fail, IT specialists use more specialized methods to ensure information security. One of the most common methods is the use of overwriting programs that rewrite the whole HDD storage area with special patterns of 1s and 0s. There is a remarkable variety of software solutions with different algorithms for secure overwriting, and this option is in most cases sufficient to ensure secure data elimination but it takes time, and it only works for HDDs that are still functioning; you cannot overwrite an HDD that has already failed. The problem is that normal overwriting software cannot address damaged sectors and protected areas of hard disk drives. So information stored on damaged sectors of the hard drive remains intact when using overwriting procedures. Therefore HDD overwriting is not a perfect solution for secure data elimination. As hard disk drives grew larger, the risk of head crash and mechanical damage was a very difficult problem to solve for the drive manufacturers. Head crashes and mechanical damage are fatal to the HDD, as damaged HDD clusters cannot be accessed by normal reading and writing heads. In response to these risks, drives were manufactured to be more and more robust, and were designed with special functionality allowing the drives themselves to retrieve data from specially protected areas. Additionally, overwriting is not time efficient a 250 GB disk drive usually takes about 4-5 hours of continuous operation to overwrite, and if overwriting fails the entire process must be restarted, if possible. Information security unfortunately can become a very time consuming and costly matter when using overwriting procedures, especially for larger quantities of hard disk drives. Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 5

6 Secure Erase ideal solution (for functioning hard disk drives) The first real solution for secure information elimination is a method called Secure Erase. This is a capability built into all modern HDD that was developed by the hard disk drive manufacturers, implementing an advanced process of overwriting into the firmware of the drive. Secure Erase eliminates all information carried on hard disk drives, including bad sectors and protected areas. Secure Erase can be operated without the use of a computer, as this functionality is directly embedded into the drive s firmware. Secure Erase is also much faster than overwriting: it avoids the low data transfer rates that are responsible for the slow pace of HDD overwriting procedures. With Secure Erase, a typical 250 GB drive only needs less than 60 minutes to be totally erased. The Secure Erase process locks up the hard disk drive during operation, so there is no chance to access the remaining data, even if the process fails. Keep in mind that you need to make a backup of any data that you might want to keep because once you start the Secure Erase process on an HDD, it is already too late to recover the data or change your mind! Secure Erase offers the latest state-of-the-art solution for information security and overwriting of hard disk drives. It is fast, reliable and efficient. But one limitation of Secure Erase is that it cannot be used to erase hard disk drives that have suffered mechanical failures. How can you get rid of data on failed, damaged and non-accessible drives? Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 6

7 Degaussing the gold standard for secure data elimination in all types of drives As soon as a hard disk drive refuses to spin, many IT users think that all the drive s data is gone or at least no longer accessible. Unfortunately they have not heard about forensic data recovery, or they would think differently! In most cases, mechanical problems or even complete failures of drives do not influence the information stored on them at all. Even a severe head crash only destroys some sectors of the HDD, but most data remains undamaged, intact, and able to be accessed by unauthorized parties if the HDD is not disposed of properly. Hard disk drives were designed to avoid the risk of head crashes a highly damaging type of mechanical failure. However, these innovations had the unintended consequence of making data a bit too resilient; while trying to avoid the risk of a head crash, hard disk drive manufacturers created highly resistant storage devices which are much stronger and robust than they appear. Even great shocks, punishing hits or extreme heat (up to a certain point) do not defeat the information carrying ability of most hard disk drives. The disk itself might refuse to spin, but its stored information will survive intact. You need to keep this in mind when choosing the right method of information elimination: hard disk drives are remarkably tough. They can take a lot of punishment without losing their data. For example, if asked to destroy a hard disk drive, most people would probably start with drilling or punching some holes in the disk, or even more impressive bending or breaking the hard disk drive. This seems to be a really good idea at first sight: your disk will not spin anymore. Unfortunately the result is similar to a book with crumpled pages: it might not work to scan it properly anymore, but with a bit of patience, you can still read all of the information. The same thing happens to your hole-drilled drive when forensic data recovery experts start to look at it: they can still read the drive and copy all of your information easily. The next step up in data security requires more of everything: more power, more machinery and some additional space outside of your office. Shredding is a nice alternative; although even this level of destruction will not eliminate your data completely, it will make life a lot harder for any unauthorized parties who try to recover your data. Unfortunately HDD shredding is a noisy and slow process, not appropriate for an office environment your employees will likely complain if asked to work side-by-side with the sound of hard disk drives being shredded! Shredding or even granulating hard disk drives is a good addition to other methods of secure information elimination. Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 7

8 Bending, breaking, cutting and mixing the final results of your shredded hard disk drive will make your hard disk drive uninteresting for most data looters. But still, even this drastic level of destruction does not make your data unrecoverable. To achieve the absolute highest level of information assurance, appropriate for the most sensitive and secret data, you need to use degaussing. The best way to eliminate data from a magnetic data storage device other than Secure Erase for hard disk drives is degaussing. A degausser creates a high magnetic field that erases all magnetic structure (and deletes all information) from the hard disk drive. Degaussing works like a bulldozer on the magnetic storage structure of your drive, leaving nothing but unrecoverable ruins of the information that was stored there. One drawback of degaussing is that it permanently renders the hard disk drive unusable, so if you need to re-use your storage devices after erasing the data, you should choose Secure Erase instead. Degaussing is also a good solution for non-functioning drives that were already out of operation and if you want to urgently and completely erase all data from a storage device, rendering that device unusable is often a small price to pay. One thing to watch for when choosing or operating a degausser: the magnetic field has to be high enough to successfully erase the data. Typically the field strength of a degausser must be at least 1.5 times the coercivity of the processed hard disk drive to be appropriate. The term coercivity describes the magnetic field which is necessary to eliminate all magnetic activity of a ferromagnetic material. Modern hard disk drives typically reach up to 5,000 Oe (Oersteds the magnetic unit for magnetic vector potential, named after a Danish physicist). But the field strength mentioned above is enough to deal with most commercial and even governmental needs. A government secret service would usually choose higher field strength just to be extra certain that all data is successfully deleted. A good degausser will solve most data security issues. Additionally, degaussers are quiet in operation, office friendly and can quickly process higher volumes of hard disk drives that need to be erased. Some people might be concerned about the safety or side effects of magnetic fields and it s true that degaussers should probably not be used by people using a pacemaker, and you should probably not leave your credit card lying directly beside the degausser. But because a degausser s magnetic fields are applied to a focused area and then quickly go away, degaussing is a safe way of processing data carriers. Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 8

9 Now it comes back to you: if you want to destroy your IT secrets in an appropriate way, do you want to make your data completely unrecoverable after being used or transferred from an old hard disk drive? This is a question you must answer yourself. Different organizations have different levels of risk, and not all information is equally sensitive. But think of the risk of sharing IT information with everyone! If your old HDDs fall into the wrong hands, it s easier than ever for your confidential information, customer information, trade secrets and high-level government data to be leaked to the media, sold to competitors, or posted online. It s best to avoid these negative consequences by investing in the right information assurance solutions. In information security as in life, it s best to get it right the first time! Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 9

10 Company Profile Data protection was something unheard of when the first shredders were introduced in the 1960 s. Starting with the "electronic wastepaper basket" INTIMUS Simplex in 1965 the product range nowadays meets all the requirements imposed with regard to information assurance. It does not only contain devices for the shredding of classical data media, such as print outs, computer lists or even complete folders, but also features machines to destroy information on modern endpoint devices like CDs, floppy disks, Hard Disk Drives and Solid State Media. intimus Security Consulting is a concept to assist organisations worldwide to define, implement and monitor procedures for information security beyond the endpoint. More information is available under The MARTIN YALE GROUP was formed in 2003 by the former individual organisations MARTIN YALE Industries (North America) and Schleicher International (Germany). Today the Group has got an extensive worldwide distribution network with 7 branch offices and over 150 distributors. Contact Details MARTIN YALE GROUP Bergheimer Strasse Markdorf / Germany Tel / (0) / Fax 0049 / (0) / mailto: Stopping Leaks: How to Confront the Challenges of Endpoint Information Security from HDD 10

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