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Going high-tech: if you aren't already destroying electronic media, should you be?

Rebecca Rohan

Document destruction operators, such as Rich Kraus of ShredForce in San Marcos, Calif., or Leigh Johnson, president of Direct Shred Inc. of Santa Barbara County, Calif., are expanding toward the new market segment of electronics and micro-media destruction slowly, at their customers' request.

Leigh Johnson says micro-media makes up no more than 10 percent of her business: "Customers asked, 'Can you get rid of this?' and we wanted to be able to say, 'We can take care of that; that's no problem.'"

PLUGGING IN. Like the vast majority in electronic data shredding right now, both Kraus and Leigh Johnson destroy floppies, microfilm, microfiche, tape and CDs.

Direct Shred's Johnson uses SEM disintegrating equipment at her plant-based facility and ShredFast trucks equipped with shredders to serve customers on-site. Swapping out a screen converts the mobile shredders from turning documents to confetti to turning microfiche to dust--which is important, because a piece of microfiche shredded to an acceptable size for paper could still contain many pages of readable data.

Leigh Johnson has to charge her customers more for electronics media shredding because it takes much longer for the machine to chomp e-media. This tow-profile, customer-convenience business model for e-media destruction can put a fiber-destruction business in the e-destruction game.

Munching hard drives using a machine such as the 75-horsepower RG 5275 P Shortie, made by VecoPlan, High Point, N.C., can be considered the next level up from Direct Shred's approach. This shredder is currently on order for Ken Walsh of St. Louis Data Destruction, Maryland Heights, Mo.

Similarly, gargling 800 computer monitors per hour in the giant throat of a multi-million-dollar, custom-engineered behemoth is what Gold Circuit Inc., headquartered in Chandler, Ariz., is doing at its Casa Grande, Ariz., facility.

TAKING FUTURE STOCK. Robert Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Information Destruction (NAID), Phoenix, says, "With federal mandates such as FACTA (Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003), G-L-B (Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) all coming together, it's going to be very risky to just toss electronic media out, but I doubt the business will rival paper in sheer amount. Even if Americans were disposing of 20 million computers a year, that would still be far less than the amount of paper they are throwing away. [Electronic volume] is enough to support two or three companies or one large company, not 2,000."

The flow of retiring electronics and disposable media has been widely predicted, but another new source of business will come from the eye-opening attention being paid in privacy and identity theft and to related regulations.

Affected organizations are not obligated to outsource data disposal, but the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) factor inherent in the complicated regulations make contract services appealing.

Currently, many organizations are struggling to teach employees the habits of proper e-media disposal. Security can be a difficult mindset to instill, and the behavior takes time to train. But in these times of regulation and litigation, businesses are likely to think of secure destruction more routinely than they did in the pre-HIPAA days--or before their local investigative news team rifled through a bank dumpster for a story.

Individuals already have an unprecedented awareness of issues related to identity theft and are shredding documents before recycling them. That sensibility carries over into businesses outside the health and financial sectors. "Before, only banks and hospitals knew about shredding," says Leigh Johnson. "We had to educate the average doctor's office and insurance companies. Now we shred for restaurants and liquor stores."

How many e-media destruction companies can be supported in a given metropolitan market has not yet been determined. Opportunities may exist nationally, regionally and locally in one or more niches. Being cutting-edge is what put Ken and John Walsh of St. Louis Destruction on top in their region 19 years ago, they say, when they took an office shredding machine door-to-door to businesses such as banks.

St. Louis Destruction also formed a partnership with Reality Systems LLC of St. Charles, Mo. When customers want data saved to CD before it's shredded, St. Louis Destruction sends it to Reality Systems for scanning, then brings the original back for a sharp send-off.

DATA ABOUT DATA. In the destruction business, one may need to go as deep as physical hard drive destruction capability--meaning shredding, not merely drilling holes in platters or degaussing.

If informed clients want irrecoverable physical destruction, they may dismiss drills, which can still leave readable data, and degaussing, which can put drives in a whirlpool ranging from too-weak-to-wipe to so-strong-it's-ruined.

One vendor shears hard drives once lengthwise and once along the drive's width, severing the data tracks so that, in theory, data cannot be recovered. Stephen Satchell, principal of Satchell Evaluations in Reno, Nev., says that, "Sawing the disks in half or otherwise physically deforming them (not just warping them, but actually causing breaks), and then removing all ways to 'follow the tracks,'" should pass the legitimate destruction test.

But sometimes income is tied to client perceptions: Before choosing equipment, put yourself in the place of customers who have hard drives they are serious about destroying. Given the choice between a business that uses a hard drive shredder and one that cuts hard drives into four rather large pieces, customers may opt for the shredder because they can see how nasty and mangled the drive looks.

Some clients may prefer software overwrites to physical destruction, because they want to sell the hard drive. Reclamere Inc., of Tyrone, Pa., only destroys to the component level, relying on software destruction. "I make it clear that it's not for everyone," says the company's Angie Keating. "If you need 100 percent certainly, then physical destruction is the only option for you. I would say that for eight out of 10 of our customers--medium to large businesses--[overwrites are] acceptable. It would be very irresponsible to present digital destruction as one hundred percent perfect."

One of the disk wiping options Keating uses is the Department of Defense (DOD) 5220.22-M Standard. The DOD standard also includes minimum requirements for either clearing or sanitizing other types of magnetic disks, magnetic tape, optical disks, memory, cathode ray tubes and printers, because data gets left on printer ribbons and jammed paper, burnt into monitor glass and stuck in the oddest pieces of memory in a PC. DOD also tells how to properly sample wiped disks.

For obsolete or damaged drives or with drives the destruction business has no machine set up to run and monitor, basically, if they can't mount the drive, it can't overwrite it.

James Greenberg, president of Gold Circuit Inc., says his company won't soft-wipe a Pentium 266 or lower. "We shred the entire machine, including hard drives," he says. "It doesn't pay to pay a technician to clean the hard drive the correct way--the economics aren't there--so we shred those. It's better for us and better for our customers. And we have certain customers that won't allow us to sell any of their equipment; it all has to be destroyed. That's why we have two facilities. When all they want done is to have it destroyed, we send it directly to that facility so there is no mistake."

The author is a freelance contributor based in the state of Washington. She can be contacted at rrohan@bitcaves.com.

COPYRIGHT 2004 G.I.E. Media, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group





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