According to the Identity Theft Resource Centre, nearly 12 million data records have been exposed since the beginning of 2017. Although data sanitisation is an important step in preventing sensitive data from being accessed or breached, it’s still relatively unknown and often misunderstood within the technology and IT security industry. With this in mind, a new independent network – known as the International Data Sanitisation Consortium (IDSC) – has been launched to champion and promote data sanitisation Best Practice.
The organisation’s mission is to eliminate ambiguity around data sanitisation, including terminology, standards and guidelines. This is an area that requires serious attention, as a recent survey of IT professionals worldwide duly discovered. When asked to identify the correct definition of data sanitisation, 64% of respondents failed to choose the correct answer. On top of this, media reports and data recovery studies have repeatedly proven just how easy, common and dangerous it is for data to be recovered – all because devices hadn’t been sanitised before they were discarded, recycled, traded in, resold or reused.
Data sanitisation is defined as the process of deliberately, permanently and irreversibly removing or destroying the data stored on a memory device to make it unrecoverable. This includes traditional IT equipment with data storage and mobile devices, along with Internet-connected devices such as wearables, medical devices and ‘infotainment’ systems in cars. A device that has been sanitised has no usable residual data and, even with the assistance of advanced forensic tools, the data can never be recovered.
There are three methods to achieve data sanitisation: physical destruction, cryptographic erasure and data erasure.
The IDSC’s members include influential technology and IT security experts across academic institutions, analyst firms, software providers, hardware manufacturers, IT asset disposition vendors and enterprise businesses.
Richard Stiennon, chief strategy officer at the Blancco Technology Group, is a founding member and acting director of the IDSC. “I’m astounded by how little is known and understood about data sanitisation,” said Stiennon. “This stems from confusion about the definition of data sanitisation and the varying methods for achieving it. For example, many businesses mistakenly implement certain data removal methods, such as a factory reset, reformatting, data wiping and data clearing, because they believe these methods are capable of achieving data sanitisation, when in actual fact they’re not. As a result, most organisations today are not undertaking the necessary steps to implement a data sanitisation process and leaving themselves vulnerable to a potential data breach. This is both disappointing and alarming and something we at the IDSC hope to change through ongoing education and guidance.”
In addition to Stiennon, the IDSC’s participating members include Barclay Blair (founder and executive director of the Information Governance Initiative), Paul Henry (information security and forensics expert), Rohini Khanduri (Ingram Micro ITAD), Henrik Andersen (Kroll Ontrack LLC), David Morgan of Morgan Privacy Consulting, financial sector veteran Craig Koon and Steve Martin (consulting/technology industry specialist).
“Failing to govern data is an endemic problem that can inflict serious damage on an organisation at any time, from the instant a piece of digital data is created right to the very end of its lifecycle,” said Barclay Blair. “Time and time again across the hundreds of organisations we speak to each year, we see the consequences of this governance failure in litigation, security breaches, loss of customer trust, regulatory sanctions and other completely unnecessary incidents. Data sanitisation is an essential element of an holistic and mature approach to governing information, and it’s our fervent hope that this initiative will play a major role in driving clarity and adoption on this critical part of the information governance lifecycle.”
The consortium hopes to educate technology and IT security professionals about data sanitisation by creating and sharing useful content that will help businesses better manage and protect their data. This educational content will be contributed by each of the IDSC’s participating members and made available on a dedicated website: www.datasanitization.org