How DIY e-Waste Disposal Threatens Data Security


 Electronic waste disposal is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream. So much so, that The E-Waste World Conference and Expo to be held in Frankfurt, Germany at the end of 2021  will focus solely on e-waste topics, including the link between disposal and data security. The more electronic products that are disposed of e.g. servers, smartphones, laptops, computers, printers or monitors, the more data is discarded with them. As such, the connection between electronic waste disposal and compromised data security grows ever stronger, and even more concerning.

PurpleSec, a Washington based cybersecurity company says the average cost of a data breach to global companies is $3.86 million, and 31% of data breach victims later have their identity stolen. Physically uplifting data from discarded devices is one of the simpler ways to access this sort of sensitive information. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this issue. Blancco, a leading global provider of mobile device diagnostics, commissioned an international study of more than 600 enterprises and found that  97% of them had to purchase laptops at the height of the crisis. This was done to manage the enormous wave of employees moving from traditional workspaces to home office environments. The study also asked the respondents whether they agreed with the following statement:

“COVID-19 caused unnecessary short-term investment in technology, which will leave us at risk with data being stored on a wide range of devices.”

78% did agree with that statement. This obviously demonstrates an awareness of security risks, but does that awareness extend to the threats posed by decommissioned computer equipment or media? You don’t have to attend an e-waste expo in Frankfurt to understand that valuable and classified information stored on electronic devices often STAYS stored once those devices are disposed of. While cloud-based storage is now seen as an effective way to protect data and sensitive material, the fact remains that actual physical storage on devices still makes that material vulnerable when they’re no longer required. And it’s not just in the large corporate sector where sensitive data is vulnerable. Home offices and individuals living within those homes are also vulnerable with anything from personal pictures, passwords, medical records, credit card numbers or bank account information able to be accessed should disposed devices fall into the wrong hands.

For all that, large corporations, through to individuals, often fail to implement firm policies and plans that make the disposal of their electronic waste a safe and secure process. Data sanitisation when their old devices are eventually decommissioned is a common oversight, which is an alarming thought when there can be no guarantees that data theft won’t occur once an IT asset has been decommissioned.

This New Zealand information management company states that just 1 GB of data can equal as many as 675,000 pages of information. If that 1 GB of data resides on a decommissioned computer or storage source that falls into the wrong hands, it lays the foundation for a breach on a major scale. For clients of that New Zealand company, this isn’t an issue thanks to an e-waste service that renders their unwanted equipment useless by protecting any data still stored on the device. This service entails the collection and physical destruction of digital media to particle size and is available for households, small businesses or large corporations. An optional service allows for the back-up of the data to a secure cloud-hosted platform prior to destruction.

It’s a thorough, secure and structured process designed to provide maximum data protection when a device is no longer required. It’s a far cry from the haphazard DIY approach taken by many companies and individuals when it comes to electronic waste disposal. Their decommissioned devices end up in all sorts of unknown places and, potentially, the data on those devices could have a similarly mysterious fate. While the world is using more digital devices than ever before, there doesn’t seem to be a corresponding uptake in disposal processes, which is why this company’s e-waste disposal service certainly stands out.