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Degaussing vs Shredding: How to Decide What Suits You Best

By Randy Green September 20, 2022

In recent years, laws outline stricter guidelines and greater penalties around breaches in data security have come into effect. These laws make it illegal for businesses to carelessly or irresponsibly dispose of personal, confidential, proprietary, or top-secret data.

As a result, breaches in data security now carry heavy fines, not to mention the cost to your brand's reputation.

While there are many methods to dispose of information stored on hard drives, not all these methods are equally effective or secure.

Today, we consider the differences between the two most popular data sanitization methods, degaussing and shredding, and endeavor to determine which best suits your needs.

We’ll examine:

  • What each method entails and its effectiveness
  • Recommended product options in each category
  • The pros and cons of each data sanitizing method

Step 1 - Understand the Pros and Cons of Degaussing Hard Drives

Degaussing is the act of sanitizing data from a hard drive by exposing it to a high-strength magnetic field, thereby erasing all data contained within.

The powerful magnetic field rearranges the polarity of the particles in the hard drive, unrecoverably destroying any stored information, and rendering the hard drive unusable.

This is one of the main reasons businesses turn to degaussing for data sanitizing—it's safe, effective, and ensures high levels of data security.

Note: Degaussers are only effective on magnetic storage devices, such as hard drives, tapes, and cassettes.

The Pros of Degaussing

  • Degaussing permanently removes all confidential information, preventing sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands and becoming compromised.
  • The degaussing process is fast (a few seconds is enough to wipe a hard drive) and efficient with little cleaning up to do after as the drives remain physically intact.
  • Degaussing ensures compliance with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) requirements for the safe disposal of electronic devices.

The Cons of Degaussing

  • Degaussing does not work on flash storage media, such as USB drives, solid state drives (SSDs), and memory cards, as they don't rely on magnetic structures to store data.
  • Degaussing does not provide reporting of the erasure process, which is necessary to prove regulatory compliance.

Considering a degausser? Here are our top certified-for-data-destruction picks:

Proton 1100 Degaussing Wand

Proton 1100 Degaussing Wand

The Proton 1100 has been tested for different magnetic storage devices and can securely erase up to 5,000 Oersteds. It's also on the NSA/CSS Evaluated products list and complies with recognized security standards, including NIST, HIPAA, FACTA, IRS, GLBA, GDPR, and PIPEDA.

MBM DESTROYIT Degausser / HDP

MBM DESTROYIT Degausser/HDP

The MBM DESTROYIT Degausser is a highly effective degausser with an HDP unit capable of erasing hard drives and high-coercivity tape media. The HDP unit further punches a hole through hard drives to ensure all data is completely unrecoverable. 

Step 2 - Understand the Pros and Cons of Shredding Hard Drives

Hard drive shredding works similarly to office shredders, except the hard drives are pulverized, making data retrieval impossible.

Shredders also have the added advantage of being able to destroy other data storage devices like smartphones, tablet computers, and DVDs.

In the case of hard drives, there are two kinds used to store data:

  • Solid State Drives (SSD): Which use integrated circuitry and flash memory to store and retrieve data.
  • Hard Disk Drives (HDD): Which uses one or more rotating platters coated in a magnetic material to store and retrieve data.

Thanks to their different constructions, these two types of drives require different destruction techniques when shredding.

With an HDD, provided the platters are destroyed, data is unrecoverable. However, with an SSD, each chip must be destroyed to ensure data security, as it may be possible to recover data from the remaining small fragments.

To prevent this, ensure the shredder you use meets the needs specific to the storage being data-erased. Usually, this means a shred size small enough to ensure the destruction of each chip in an SSD. The recommended shred size to achieve this is at least 10 mm or smaller.

photo-snippet-degaussing-vs-shredding

The Pros of Shredding

  • Shredding renders data 100% unrecoverable, thus ideal for organizations with sensitive data.
  • Shredding satisfies data security compliance requirements, preventing fines and potential lawsuits.

The Cons of Shredding

  • Shredding hard drives and other media creates a lot of electronic waste that needs sorting and recycling.
  • Shredding takes more time and effort than degaussing as it involves physically destroying the hard drives.

Keeping these in mind, here are some of our best-recommended shredders:

Proton PDS-88 Solid State Multimedia Shredder

Proton PDS-88 Solid State Multimedia Shredder

Enjoy the capability to destroy different storage devices right in your copy room with the Proton PDS-88 Solid State Multimedia Shredder. Simply feed the storage device you wish to destroy through the large media flap or small media chute and let the machine do the rest.

The Proton PDS-88 Solid State Multimedia Shredder also promises compliance with recognized security standards and regulations, including NIST, HIPAA, IRS, PIPEDA, FACTA, IRS, PCI DSS, and GLBA.

Proton 104 Multimedia Shredder 

Proton 104 Multimedia Shredder

The Proton 104 is the perfect multimedia shredder for the office and other data center environments. It offers powerful shredding for hard drives and other storage media at low noise levels to provide compliance with data security laws and regulations. 

Step 3 - Make an Informed Decision

To determine which of the two data sanitizing methods best suit you, we have to examine them against industry standards and your needs.

While there are many different regulations, the premise behind all of them is to protect the privacy and sanctity of information. Although the method of data sanitization is not always defined, the best practices among the regulators stipulate these basic requirements:

  Degausser Shredder
Completely wipes data
Verifiable proof of erasure
Physically destroys drive

From this table, it’s easy to think that shredding is the better option. However, it’s not that simple. Some modern degaussers come with an HDP Unit, which physically destroys hard drives after the degaussing process, satisfying the requirement.

So now, the right data sanitizing method for you depends on your specific needs as an organization. That is, the amount and type of storage media you need destroyed, their size, the confidentiality of your data, and your budget.

But if you're still unsure about what method to use, this is where we at Armadillo Industrial Supplies come in.

About Armadillo Industrial Supplies

Armadillo Industrial Supplies is an industry leader in distributing industry solutions, including data destruction.

At Armadillo Industrial Supplies, we leverage our decades of experience and in-depth knowledge of the equipment we offer to provide solutions that uniquely suit your specific needs. Beyond this, partnering with Armadillo Industrial supplies also comes with a few perks, such as:

  • Installation service: Most of our FORMAX equipment comes with on-site installation, training, and service. We offer the same for other brands on request.
  • Authorized dealers: We are authorized dealers for every brand we carry. This reflects the trust and respect we’ve garnered with different manufacturers and spells a few added benefits for you, including:
    • Direct shipping from the manufacturers
    • Support from our company and the manufacturer
    • Up-to-date training from manufacturers
    • Full factory warranties on all our products
  • Unmatched customer support: Our team is trained to work with you and tailor solutions to your needs. For instance, here’s what a supervisor at a D.C. medical organization had to say about a custom data sanitizing solution we provided:

The shred is fabulous, and there’s no telling what was on the paper. I tell my staff that whatever’s shredded is gone for good. They'll never be able to put the pieces back together!

Contact us today to order your preferred data destruction equipment or for help working out the best solution for your organization. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a magnet destroy a hard drive?

While it's true that a magnet can destroy a hard drive, the magnets in your home or office will do little, if anything, to erase the data contained in your hard drives. Degaussers use very powerful magnets to destroy hard drives.

Can I reuse my hard drive after it's been degaussed?

No, you cannot reuse a hard drive once it's been degaussed. Degaussing removes not only the data stored on the drive but also the information needed for the drive to function, such as the startup files.

Are hard drives toxic?

No. Hard drives are not toxic (unless you burn them). They are perfectly safe to put through a shredder or degausser.

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