Did you know that in 2010, Americans discarded or recycled over 423,000 tons of computers? Unfortunately, people don’t always take the right precautions—and letting your data escape on an old device is dangerous, whether that’s a random shopper at Goodwill or a garbage picker in Ghana.
End-of-life is a critical stage for any computer—in an IT setting, or even with personal devices. I recently had the chance to appear on the IT in the D podcast, based out of Detroit, to talk about this issue and a new startup project I’ve been working on, called GEEPS.
Data Disposal is more important now than ever
To give you an idea of scope, since 1999, the amount of electronic waste in the US has increased dramatically—over 2.4 million tons every year! In 2012, the average US household had 3 computers—and those are going to cycle in and out with time. That’s 3 computers with personal & work data being discarded annually!
With pressing news like identity theft occurring online every two minutes, it’s no surprise that offline data theft can be overlooked, but irresponsibly disposing of an old computer can lead to the same threat, especially as more and more of our lives become digital. Being careless with old data is obviously a bad thing, but most users aren’t intentionally careless about this issue—it’s just a matter of awareness and difficulty.
Any IT guy will tell you: just because you clicked “empty trash,” doesn’t mean that information is gone forever. Many enterprise businesses have data destruction procedures specifically to deal with end-of-life devices—so why shouldn’t the average user? Groups like PC Advisor have put together guidelines on erasing your hard drives to ensuring that every bit of your old data is overwritten with “0”s, but these procedures are still outside the skill level of many end-users and individuals.
Finding a simpler solution
In a consumer culture that pushes users to replace their computers every four years, we can lose sight of dangers like this, which is why the security industry should be teaching better practices and seeking better solutions for data disposal. Currently, only 32 US states are asking businesses to deal with these issues, and only 15 require the government to do so! Whether it’s an issue of enforcement is hard to say, but the public should at least be alert to the threat, and have better resources for destroying old data.
One of the ways I’m hoping to help is through a project I’ve been working on called GEEPS. You should check out the podcast below for more details, but in essence, it’s a “Linux on a stick,” meant to help users access old drives, and (if you choose to do so) wipe them completely clean.
Think before you trash it!
At the end of the day, the most important thing is responsibly disposing of all that old data. In an age when our information is sensitive enough while it’s still in our hands, I think it’s all the more important to keep users cautious and secure. I encourage anyone interested in reading further to check out this FTC piece on proper data and computer disposal.