Is in-house degaussing a safe way to erase data?

    Degaussing is more complex than waving a magnet around a hard drive

    Over time, we accumulate hard drives, computers, cell phones, and other data storing devices, most of which carry our personal and private information.

    In fact, you probably have an old bin or drawer housing those devices right now.

    Unfortunately, you can’t get rid of them without taking the proper precautions to make sure your private data is secured. Physical destruction is one form of ensuring your private files aren’t exposed.

    However, you shouldn’t physically destroy magnetic forms of media by burning them. By doing this, you are emitting toxins into the air. This form of media should also not be buried because it’s not biodegradable.

    Luckily, magnetic degaussing can give you peace of mind in knowing your files will be erased forever. The question remains: is it safe to do in-house degaussing?

    What is degaussing?

    Degaussing is a form of overwriting secure data and erasing it without having to worry about that information falling into the wrong hands. In some cases, someone might choose to physically destroy a hard drive. On the other end, degaussing doesn't physically destroy the hard drive, but demagnetizes or neutralizes the magnetic field used for data storage. The data storage can be any form of magnetic media such as hard drives, floppy disks, etc.

    Simply overwriting or deleting a file isn’t enough. With the use of a degausser, any magnetic media can pass through a powerful and controlled magnetic field. During this process, the degausser rearranges the magnetic particles within the device and, once completed, no previously recorded data will be recognizable.

    In order for a 100% data erasure to occur, the degaussing coils need to be two to three times the energy rating of the device being sanitized. The more intense the degausser’s magnet, the greater the likelihood of achieving secure data destruction within seconds. If this is not accomplished, fragments of data will remain.


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    Degausser Pros

    • Assurance all sensitive data has been erased permanently. Only a degausser can remove data 100%.
    • Using a degausser is more environmentally friendly. Magnetic media is difficult to dispose of.
    • Secure data destruction is achieved within seconds.
    • Degaussers are highly recommended for businesses - especially government agencies and businesses that store client information and require high levels of data security.

    Degausser Cons

    • Degaussing does not work on all media devices. It can only be used on magnetic storage media, which means that solid state drives (SSDs) will be virtually unaffected by a magnetic field.
    • As a media sanitation choice, degaussing is an older technique and will only be successful if the proper type of degausser matches what it is needed for.
    • There can be high costs associated with its use.
    • Once a device has been degaussed, it is no longer usable.

    Shredding your device

    Of course, shredding is an added redundancy to ensure absolute secure data destruction but you shouldn’t choose to do one over the other.

    When it comes to the process of shredding, this solution only physically alters the device. It is important to recognize that data is still recoverable from shredded disk fragments.

    In order to meet the National Security Agency’s (NSA) requirements of data destruction, the first step is to degauss a device, followed by shredding it to 2mm particle size, the same thickness as pencil lead.

    Why doesn’t degaussing work on solid state drives (SSDs)?

    Magnetic degaussing does not work on SSDs, cell phones, laptops, and tablets. These devices use an electric charge to store data. Degaussing these forms of media would have virtually no effect on the device since the information is not magnetically compiled.

    To sanitize an SSD, you are left with two options.

    • Physical destruction
    • Sanitize with software

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    Things to consider when purchasing a degausser

    • What forms of media do you need degaussed? As there are many ways data can be stored - different degaussers will meet different needs.
    • How much magnetic media are you looking to have degaussed?
      Are you purchasing the degausser with enough power to erase your devices?
    • Do you have the time to erase data manually or would an automated system be more beneficial?
    • Do you have the room to store a degausser? Some machines can take up significant space. This is something small business spaces should consider.

    Is in-house degaussing safe?

    Absolutely, in-house degaussing is safe and is definitely safer than physical destruction. But as we outlined above, you have to take inventory of your current ITAD situation and create exceptions for devices that cannot be degaussed. With that knowledge, you'll have to consider:

    • the cost of the degausser
    • the energy rating
    • whether or not your inventory is mostly magnetic
    • is it more effective to not bring this capability in-house 

    We have solutions for both HDDs and SSDs

    If you’re in need of secure data destruction on your devices, reach out to our experienced team to learn which method is best for you here.

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