How to Securely Dispose of Old Work Devices

Modern organizations rely on modern electronic devices to thrive in an increasingly competitive world. But even the shiniest workstations, laptops, smartphones, and other work devices are destined to become outdated, which tends to happen sooner rather than later due to the incredible pace of technological progress.

When work devices become obsolete, organizations need to figure out the best way how to securely dispose of them. Why because the consequences of just throwing old electronic devices away can potentially be disastrous—and not just for the organization.

Improper IT Disposal Is a Huge Threat

Our work devices store large quantities of sensitive data that must be protected at all times to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

To achieve this goal, cybersecurity-aware organizations spend a lot of time, money, and effort educating their employees on cybersecurity best practices and strengthening their defenses by investing in everything from physical security control to managed security services.

Surprisingly often, they then throw (quite literary) all this work away by improperly disposing of their electronic waste, giving cybercriminals an opportunity to go dumpster diving and leave with a hard drive full of customer data, emails, search histories, and other sensitive information.

Besides jeopardizing their security, organizations that don’t securely dispose of old work devices contribute to the global e-waste problem, which reached a record 53.6 million metric tons in 2019, up 21 percent in just five years.

Needless to say, throwing electronic devices into the landfill and poisoning our planet by allowing harmful materials such as mercury, lead, and cadmium to leach into the soil is not sustainable. In fact, it’s one of the biggest threats to the environment, and all organizations should do as much as they can to avoid contributing to it.

Prepare Old Work Devices for Disposal

Old work devices can be broadly grouped into two categories: those that don’t contain sensitive data and those that do.

The former category includes devices such as printers, fax machines, peripherals, monitors, and individual hardware components (CPUs, GPUs, power sources, and so on). What these devices have in common is that they don’t contain (at least not usually) non-volatile memory. This makes their preparation for disposal much easier.

The situation is, however, a lot different when it comes to work devices that contain non-volatile memory, such as traditional spinning hard drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). Before you dispose of any work device capable of storing data long-term, it’s paramount that you do the following:

  1. Back up all important data to a safe location: Even if you have an organization-wide backup system in place, you should still manually back up all important data from your old work devices just to be safe. This can be easily done using readily available drive cloning tools, which can copy an entire storage device into a file. You can then encrypt this file and store it someplace safe until you’re 100% sure that you don’t need it anymore.
  2. If possible, securely wipe the work device: Many employees believe that it’s enough to delete work-related files and deauthorize cloud accounts before selling their BYOD laptops, smartphones, and tablets, but that’s not the case at all. Deleted files can still be recovered using data recovery software, and web browsing history, cookies, and other leftovers can be used for various nefarious purposes, such as to launch targeted phishing attacks. What you really want to do is securely wipe the entire device or at least restore it to its factory settings.
  3. If not possible, physically destroy the non-volatile memory inside the device: Should you encounter a work device that’s no longer functioning correctly, making it impossible to wipe it or restore it to factory settings, then physical destruction of the non-volatile memory inside the device is your best option. If at all possible, avoid destroying the device along with the memory because that would make recycling impossible.

Choose the Best Disposal Method

Only when you’ve backed up all important data to a safe location and ensured that nobody else can ever access it, it’s time to choose the best disposal method.

If your goal is to minimize e-waste as much as possible, then you have three main options:

  • Bring old devices to a recycler: Recycling is the best way how to get rid of electronic devices that have reached the end of their life, which is one reason why electronic waste is subject to the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and various state laws. Just make sure to select a reputable recycler and not someone that will simply sell your e-waste to the highest bidder, regardless of where it will eventually end up.
  • Donate them: Functional work devices can be donated to various charities that operate across the country and internationally. Donating electronic devices to charities not only prevents devices that have not yet reached the end of their life cycle from ending up in the landfill, but it also guarantees that they’ll end up in the hands of those who need them the most.
  • Sell them or trade them in: Relatively new work devices can be sold to buyers who are willing to pay for them or traded in for cash, credit, or all kinds of discounts through different trade-in programs create by electronics stores and even hardware manufacturers themselves.

Regardless of which of these three disposal methods you choose, the outcome will be much better than if you were to simply trash the device and make them someone else’s problem.

Does the preparation of old work devices for secure disposal seem like too much work? Are you not sure if there are any regulatory procedures your organization is obliged to follow in order to ensure sensitive data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands? If so, then Aligned Technology Solutions can help you effectively manage your IT equipment. Contact us today and let us prevent old work devices from coming back from Silicon Heaven to haunt you.

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