Data erasure standards aren’t all created equally. Although numerous standards are available in the data destruction industry that offer a legitimately clean and safe erasure process, there are some that simply aren’t recognized by larger scale industrial regulations, particularly within the government, even if the method of erasure adequately conforms to demands for keeping sensitive data safe and rendering it unrecoverable.

Smaller private enterprises may not have to look further than a solid multi-pass wipe with reporting capabilities, but IT managers working within the US government must be cognizant of a much more specific set of standards that are enforced. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) data destruction standards are recognized today as
that gold standard.

A shift in standards

Once upon a time, the Department of Defense (DoD) set the absolute precedent for data erasure. DoD standards were recognized as the go-to for civilian and defense agencies alike, and the adoption of the standards took hold for over two decades.

The compliance standards enforced by the DoD regulations were costly, with repetitive erasure processes consuming both time and resources. A convoluted workflow congested smaller operations’ cost-effectiveness. Furthermore, at the time, government agencies and organizations were adhering to multiple different standards at a time, which tacked on additional costs and layers of work.

DoD and NIST data erasure guidelines were both followed. DoD sanitization included multiple passes, with several variations developing over the years. The method was effective, if not a bit overwrought: the method was never truly approved as a proper standalone certification, as NIST was used alongside it. While the overwriting methods employed by DoD could meet data destruction standards, the method wasn’t a means to an end.

In 2014, the government decided to adopt a more uniform approach, and the Department of Defense began replacing DoD with NIST guidelines across the board. This cut down on the confusion and convolution, requiring both civilian and military entities to conform to NIST data erasure protocol.

NIST data erasure standards are time-tested

The NIST was first published in 2006, and created a new outline for overwriting and erasing by establishing a set of recommendations. The NIST publication was revised in 2012, and since has become recognized as the leading information security process for government and small business entities alike.

When risks for data theft and regulatory deficiencies is at an all-time high, adhering to the rigorous guidelines set by the NIST is necessary. Make meeting NIST standards a priority for your ITAD plan.

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