Discarding e-waste: Is your company security at risk?

Today’s corporate nightmare is to give a batch of old computers to a recycler only to hear a few months later how the hard drives are for sale on eBay or a street corner in Africa full of Social Security numbers, credit card information and corporate secrets.

Permitting sensitive information to leak to the public is embarrassing, of course, and also infuriates customers whose information is exposed to identity theft, opening the door to civil lawsuits.

Disposing of electronics in an environmentally responsible way, while at the same time deleting sensitive information, is the corporate conundrum of the digital age. Discarding old computers, monitors, printers and cellphones is more involved than simply taking your obsolete electronics out to the curb.

“It’s easy to buy something, but it’s hard to get rid of it,” said Richard Dicks, general manager for the IBM division that handles the computer recycling, in an article for bloomberg.com.

In the last two decades, businesses and governments have become savvy to the need to properly care for e-waste, some of which contains hazardous materials that can filter into the water table or be dispersed into the air, notes ewasteguide.info. The potential hazards include a range of heavy metals, radioactive substances and more.

Larger companies and governments are typically aware that sensitive information does not suddenly and mystically disappear when a device is unplugged. Careless polluting, they realize, is bad for business. Sensitive information falling into the wrong hands could ruin their businesses almost overnight.

Concerns for the security of sensitive information are huge. Those who simply toss their old electronics in the dumpster or hire irresponsible haulers to take them away could face stiff government fines from states that dictate specific regulations about the disposal of e-waste.

Preventing the release of sensitive data requires “sanitization,” as it’s called in the lingo of the field of data destruction.

Companies can destroy data in-house, but many prefer to hire professionals with the skill and specialized equipment needed to eradicate data and destroy hard drives.

These data-destruction contractors make house calls to companies that are skittish about giving up control of their information. Using portable equipment, contractors can shred hard drives while the customer watches.

“Choosing a recycler isn’t as easy as it may seem,” states the Bloomberg Businessweek article. “There are many options, such as free electronics collection sites, haulers that send trucks to pick up computers and manufacturer take-back programs. But their environmental rigor varies. Horror stories of U.S. electronics shipped to developing nations and improperly stripped of valuable metals are common.”

ldkdMIIQaQ2sucARyvXVo8KjndYH3mHFUfhe33-2fJcBusinesses looking for a reputable recycler should check for certification. The Environmental Protection Agency endorses two standards, R2 and e-Stewards, both require independent auditing, bloomberg.com reports.

Also, look for companies that:
• Include an auditing system that tracks materials and provides protection and accountability from beginning to end, allowing the client verification at every touch point
• Are fully compliant with the National Institute of Standards and Technology
• Sanitize media through a degaussing process that scrambles data into unreadable patterns
• Shred old electronics by means of chopping and mincing hard drives into tiny, inaccessible fragments

E-waste is not going away soon. It is now part of doing business. The future belongs to those who are committed to doing the work responsibly and are keenly interested in protecting its reputation and the identity of its customers.


If you wish to ensure that the entire life cycle of your electronic assets are responsibly managed, Melwood eSolutions can help. To learn more, call (301) 599-4512 or email info@melwood.org today.

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