Why You Need Secure IT Asset Disposition

Paul Gillin

Earth Day is April 22, making this as good a time as any to think about how to reduce your carbon footprint. A great place to start is with your practices for IT asset disposition.

Discarded electronics are now responsible for about 40% of the heavy metals found in landfills, and e-waste will likely only grow with the number of gadgets we use. For example, the EPA estimates that Americans disposed of 350,000 mobile phones per day in 2010, creating a waste problem that barely existed a decade earlier.

One way to ensure you’re doing the environmentally friendly thing is to use a responsible, secure IT asset disposition (ITAD) provider. “An increasing number of states and countries have outlawed putting IT assets in a landfill because of the hazardous chemicals they contain,” said Brooks Hoffman, a member of the Product Management team for Iron Mountain’s secure ITAD service. Employing an ITAD vendor “is a matter of environmental stewardship.”

Not only do IT asset disposition specialists dispose of waste in accordance with local laws, but they also deliver solid business value. For example, many ITAD providers can reclaim value from the precious metals used in electronics manufacturing, or they have networks of companies that buy refurbished equipment. “Assets may still have value and can be repurposed,” Hoffman said. That translates into cash for trash.

One of the most compelling reasons to use a commercial ITAD service is to protect the company from the risk of inadvertent data breaches. That’s because IT assets often contain valuable or sensitive data, the disclosure of which could have serious legal, reputational and regulatory consequences. Electronics that aren’t disposed of properly often turn up in street markets overseas, where criminals can buy it for a few dollars and mine the data for sale on the dark web at a large profit.

Cleansing electronics of sensitive data is a lot harder than many people think. Deleting files or even formatting a disk is the equivalent of eliminating a card catalog from a library. All the books are still there; they’re just a little harder to find. However, the tools criminals used to scour hard disks make recovering such “deleted” data child’s play.

“Deleting content doesn’t eliminate it,” Hoffman says. Complete erasure typically involves multiple passes with specialized software, or even physical destruction of the disk. The process can be time-consuming and expensive for companies that lack specialized equipment and expertise.

ITAD providers have both. Their machinery erases or destroys electronic equipment at a large scale, and many even have powerful shredding machines that reduce hard drives and other storage media to useless powder.

Then, there’s the potential reputational damage of a breach or environmental crisis. “People sometimes focus on cost and lose sight of the bigger picture,” Hoffman says. “You also have to think about the cost of having your assets found in a landfill.”

There are fly-by-night operators who promote themselves as specialists in electronic waste disposal, but check their customer lists and certifications. If the cost sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. “There’s always a lower-cost solution available, but they’re probably cutting corners,” Hoffman says. “You get what you pay for.”

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