degaussing magnetDegaussing–using magnetic fields to erase data on magnetic media–has been around for a long time. It was included in the Department of Defense 5220-22.M standard (which was formerly regarded as the leading standard for data destruction) and is in the more current NIST 800-88 standard. However, while degaussing can effectively destroy data, not all degaussing equipment is suitable for all types of media. It is important to make a technology requirement in your organization’s data destruction policy that degaussing be done using equipment that has been certified for data destruction for the media or devices you have. Improper and uncertified degaussing will not provide the desired results to protect data privacy.

Degaussers that can eradicate data on a VHS tape, which is inexpensive and usually easily handled, is not the same or as powerful as a device that can destroy data on today’s high-density data cartridges or hard drives.  Even degaussers that were originally used to “wipe” reel to reel computer tape may not have the capability to properly wipe today’s tape cartridges.

On the subject of degaussing, the data destruction industry has aligned itself with testing and certification provided by the U.S. Army research labs at Fort Meade. The “Evaluated Products List – Degausser” is readily available on the Internet and describes equipment that has been certified by the Fort Meade lab for data destruction. This list is regularly updated.

Degaussing magnetic hard drives

For magnetic hard drives, proper degaussing will destroy all the data stored on a drive and it will render the hard drive unusable. So degaussing has a similar result as physical destruction of the drive; reuse is impossible. One thing to note with degaussing is that the drive looks the same before and after degaussing. So the process must include careful documentation of which drives in a stack have been degaussed.

Degaussing tape cartridges

Some tape cartridges can be degaussed and reused, though most will not be usable because degaussing will destroy the “system Instructions” that are on the tape; a tape array will not be able to recognize a tape that has been degaussed.

The technology for erasing tapes so they can be reused is available, but this is not degaussing.

Degaussing solid state drives

SSDs (solid state drives) cannot be degaussed – they are not magnetic and therefore are not affected by a degausser’s magnetic forces. If you are pulling hard drives from systems prior to destruction, you will need to identify the SSDs in advance. Externally, they look just like magnetic drives.

Degaussing can be an efficient and effective option for destroying data on hard drives and other electronic storage media – if it is used properly. To learn about the other options and understand which will work best for your company, download our free guide, “10 Myths About IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) Data Erasure.”