Government agencies handle vast amounts of sensitive information every day, so ensuring the highest level of data security is paramount. The digital age has ushered in the necessity for effective data destruction — the process of completely destroying data from paper and electronic media so that it is completely unreadable and cannot be retrieved or used by unauthorized persons.
For government agencies, effective data protection requires robust data destruction equipment and methods to prevent potential breaches or unauthorized access. This article will focus on the physical data aspect; we will cover:
- The types of physical data destruction methods
- The most secure way to destroy physical data
- Government requirements for shredders
- Factors that determine the price of shredders
- Best practices for secure data destruction
Whether you work at a local, state, or federal agency, here are some key things you need to know to choose the best data destruction options for your organization.
What are the Types of Physical Data Destruction Methods?
Physical data destruction refers to the elimination of paper, cards, and hard drives that house sensitive information. There are different ways to eliminate this sensitive data, depending on the type you are working with.
Shredding (for Paper, Credit Cards, & CDs)
The most popular way to destroy sensitive documents is with a paper shredder. These on-site data destruction machines literally cut paper (and sometimes credit or other cards and CDs) into small pieces, called shred particles.
When talking about the shred particles, there are three common options. Strip cut, cross-cut, and micro-cut. Strip cut has blades that cut straight down your paper, but not across the sheet, creating long strips that are not very secure. Cross-cut is more popular, as it cuts both directions of the paper to create more of a confetti particle, making it more secure. Micro-cut takes that one step further by creating particles that are cross-cut so small, they are nearly impossible to reconstruct – this is the kind of cut government agencies require for sensitive data.
You can determine the kind of cut you need by looking at two different specs: the shred size itself and the security level. Both of these will speak to the level of protection you are getting with one of these government shredders. All NSA/CSS approved and TAA-compliant shredders will feature this kind of cut.
For government organizations and agencies dealing with highly sensitive paper, credit cards, ID cards, CDs, and more, shredding offers an excellent balance of security and practicality.
Degaussing (for Hard Drives)
Another well-known on-site data destruction method is degaussing, used for hard drives. Degaussers expose the storage media to a strong magnetic field that disrupts the magnetic domains where data is stored, rendering it unreadable. Degaussing devices are available in handheld “wand” versions or automated tabletop versions. They work well for any magnetic media, including hard drives from laptops, computers, copiers, and more. Once a hard drive runs through this process, it is unreadable and cannot be reused.
Media Destroyers (for Hard Drives & SSDs)
Similar to a shredder, a media destroyer involves physically destroying a storage device by crushing or pulverizing it. Hard drive destroyers, SSD destroyers, and multimedia shredders are some of the most common heavy duty equipment that is used to accomplish this task.
The Most Secure Way to Destroy Data for Government Agencies
When it comes to paper and cards, shredding is the most secure method for government agencies. Using government-approved shredders and high security, NSA/CSS approved shredders ensure you comply with data deletion regulations and keep all information secure.
What are the Government Requirements for Shredders?
Government agencies deal with classified and sensitive information that requires the utmost protection, even in disposal. Therefore, government shredders must meet strict data destruction standards to ensure security and confidentiality. Some primary government requirements for shredders include:
- NCA/CSS approval
- Micro-cut shred size
- Exceptional durability and reliability
- Safe operation
High-security paper NSA/CSS approved shredders are the gold standard for data destruction in government organizations. They meet the stringent requirements of these federal agencies and make data recovery impossible.
One NSA/CSS Approved brand is Fellowes, who provides the Powershed HS-440. The micro shred particles measure 1/32” x 3/16”, which meets NSA/CSS Specification 02-01 for a level P-7 security – the highest rating of shredder security.
Why Shredding is Essential for Government Agencies
In an era where data breaches and cyber-attacks are rampant, the secure disposal of data is instrumental in keeping sensitive data secure. Shredding plays a vital role in physical data destruction. It is a key part of any government agency’s comprehensive data management strategy for several key reasons:
- Prevents data breaches: Shredding ensures that confidential data cannot be accessed once it is no longer needed. It helps prevent possible data breaches that could lead to severe legal and financial repercussions.
- Ensures regulatory compliance: Government agencies are legally required to destroy certain types of data. Shredding allows them to comply with regulations such as FISMA. Depending on the nature of the data you destroy, other compliance standards may apply. For example, shredders used to dispose of medical records must comply with HIPAA requirements while financial records must meet the FACTA disposal rule.
- Protects reputation: Shredding helps protect public trust by ensuring confidential information does not fall into the wrong hands.
Best Government Shredders
Two main types of shredders are available for government agencies: high security shredders and NSA/CSS approved shredders.
High Security Shredders
A high security shredder is data destruction equipment designed to shred paper, cards, and other thin media into tiny particles, making the reassembly of those particles virtually impossible.
Unlike regular office shredders that may simply cut documents into strips, high security shredders dice paper into tiny, confetti-like particles that are a maximum of 1mm x 5mm in size. This level of destruction is vital for organizations handling general sensitive and confidential information.
Popular Features of High Security Shredders
High security shredders often come with a host of advanced features to improve their functionality and user experience, including:
- Auto oiling: Some high security shredders feature an auto-oiling feature to maintain peak performance and prolong the shredder’s lifespan. Auto oiling automatically lubricates the cutting blades at regular intervals to keep them sharp and efficient.
- Automatic start and stop: This feature uses sensors to detect when paper goes into the shredder. It automatically starts the shredding process and stops when the paper is shredded, which saves time and reduces the risk of paper jams.
- Reverse function: The reverse function allows the shredder to run in reverse to dislodge stuck paper from a paper jam.
- Energy-saving modes: Many high security shredders come with energy-saving modes that conserve power when the shredder is not in use. This extends the lifespan of the shredder blades and reduces energy consumption.
NSA/CSS Approved Shredders
When you see a shredder labeled NSA/CSS approved, it signifies that it meets the stringent data destruction standards set by two of the most significant security bodies in the United States — the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Security Service (CSS).
To meet these guidelines, a variety of NSA shredder requirements are involved, including:
- Size of the shred: A shredder must be capable of reducing a sheet of paper or CD into pieces measuring 1mm x 5mm or less.
- Endurance and efficiency testing: The NSA/CSS conducts rigorous testing to ensure that the shredder can handle large volumes of paper and operate effectively over long periods. Testing often involves running the shredder continuously and verifying that it maintains its performance without overheating or breaking down.
- Reliability testing: The shredder must also demonstrate reliability. This involves assessing its durability and resistance to jamming.
NCA/CSS approved shredders represent the pinnacle of secure data destruction and are the best data destruction equipment for government employees who handle and dispose of confidential information.
Determining the cost of a shredder for government agencies depends on various factors. The level of security, the single-pass capacity, the volume allowance, the feed opening, the waste bin volume, the speed, the warranty, and technology all play a part in the price. A reliable, high-performance shredder might require a higher initial investment, but it can save money in the long run due to its durability and efficient performance.
Here are several other best practices you can follow to ensure secure and effective data destruction.
1. Create a Shredding Schedule
A shredding schedule will minimize the data breach risk associated with sensitive document pile-up. It also helps ensure compliance with various laws and regulations. Finally, it demonstrates a proactive approach to data security, which can significantly enhance your reputation and public trust.
2. Prioritize Proper Disposal
Even after shredding, you should handle the disposal of shredded material correctly to ensure complete data destruction. For instance, you may consider partnering with a certified recycling company that can securely transport and recycle shredded waste. Some shredding services even offer secure consoles where you can store shredded materials until they are ready for collection.
3. Conduct Employee Training
Last but certainly not least, you should thoroughly train your employees on the importance of secure data destruction and the proper use of data destruction equipment. They should understand the risks associated with improper data disposal and how to dispose of data properly.
Training should also cover your agency’s data destruction policies, including what types of information need to be destroyed, how often shredding should take place, and the steps to take in case of a suspected data breach. Regular refresher courses can help keep this vital information top-of-mind for all staff members.
Destroy Data Safely With MyBinding
Government organizations handle sensitive information daily, so proper data destruction is crucial to prevent any unauthorized access. A high-quality shredder is an excellent investment to get your organization one step closer to complete data destruction. With nearly 20 years of experience partnering with government agencies, MyBinding provides the expertise and best-in-class government approved equipment you need for the safest and most effective data destruction.