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Data destruction: When data should disappear

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Generally, one or two wipes is enough to frustrate any ordinary forensic analysis. But for the extra cautious, Shavers recommends going with the U.S. Department of Defense requirement of three overwrite passes to erase a drive, or the National Security Agency standard of seven overwrite passes, before physically destroying the media. For the ultra-paranoid, there are also services that melt down and liquefy drives, a practice the U.S. Navy has used since the 1970s (see "This message will self-destruct in five seconds," below).

This message will self-destruct in five seconds

Texas Memory Systems doesn't advertise this on its Web site or in any of its marketing materials, but the solid state disk (SSD) provider manufactures a version of its product that makes data instantly disappear.

The Texas Memory Systems RamSan-410v SSD system is exactly the same product as the RamSan-400, but without the battery power and backup disk drives. "When you kill the power to the unit, the data truly disappears," claims Woody Hutsell, executive VP at Texas Memory Systems.

Government agencies, the military and businesses operating in "less-secure parts of the world" use it, but Hutsell was reluctant to disclose more details. It's a niche portion of Texas Memory Systems' business, representing less than 5% of the company's

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revenue last year.

Flash-based systems from BiTMicro Networks Inc. and SanDisk Corp. offer a similar instant-erase capability. SanDisk also offers a partial security-erase feature that allows users to delete only confidential data, freeing space on the disk for the next mission.


Degaussing services
For most organizations however, degaussing services are enough. EMC Corp. estimates it performs nearly 100 erasures per month of entire arrays and single drives since the launch of its data erasure service in 2005. In most cases, it's for equipment coming off a lease. The customer wants a guarantee their data is completely erased before trading the storage system in for another one. Or they might be redeploying storage to another department, for example, from human resources to test and development, and need to remove confidential information. Data center relocations are another major driver of data erasure services, according to EMC.

Paula Laughlin, director of global services marketing at EMC, claims that in the past few months she's seen a "noticeable uptake" in single-drive erasures at banks. "When drives fail, often they can still spin up and the banks in particular are being extra careful that the data on them is erased," she says. EMC is working on making the service even more granular to provide volume and LUN-level erasures and to wipe certain portions of a database. "Customers are asking us to speed up this process, too," she notes. An in-frame erasure of a single drive can take several hours or up to a day, depending on the load.

This was first published in August 2007

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