Guidelines for Media and Data Sanitization: Protecting Confidentiality

By | November 25, 2016
Guidelines for Media and Data Sanitization: Protecting Confidentiality

Guidelines for Media and Data Sanitization: Protecting Confidentiality


Guidelines for Media and Data Sanitization: Protecting Confidentiality

Revised June 26, 2023


When decommissioning information systems, it is crucial to properly sanitize the media that stored sensitive data to ensure confidentiality. NIST Special Publication 800-88 provides guidance on media sanitization, emphasizing that multiple parties involved in handling the data are responsible for this process. This article explores the types of media, and the categories of sanitization techniques to effectively protect the confidentiality of the data.

Types of Media:

  • Hard copy media:

    • Physical representations of information.
    • Examples: Paper printouts, printer ribbons, facsimile components.
    • Hard Copy Secure Destruction:

      • Shredding: Using a paper shredder or similar equipment to destroy paper printouts, printer ribbons, and facsimile components into small, irrecoverable pieces.
      • Pulping: Submerging paper materials in water to break them down into pulp, making it virtually impossible to reconstruct the original information.
      • Burning: Incinerating paper materials to completely destroy them through combustion.
  • Electronic (soft copy) media::

    • Degaussing: Using a powerful magnetic field to erase data from magnetic storage devices such as hard drives, disks, and tapes.
    • Disk media and disk heads can be physically destroyed for enhanced data security.
    • Prevent disk heads from flying over the spinning disk to hinder simple laboratory attacks.
    • Techniques: Bending disk platters, drilling holes, cutting through all tracks, shredding.
    • Thermal destruction deforms magnetic media and purges data, e.g., incineration or smelting.
    • Secure wiping: Using specialized software tools or utilities to overwrite the data on the electronic media with random characters, making it extremely difficult or impossible to recover the original information.
    • Sanitization Techniques: Clear:

      • Logical techniques to sanitize data in user-addressable storage locations.
      • Examples: Overwriting with a new value, resetting to factory state. b. Purge:
      • Physical or logical techniques to render data recovery infeasible.
      • Protects against state-of-the-art laboratory techniques. c. Destroy:
      • Renders data recovery infeasible and makes the media unusable.
      • Surface deformations, drilling, cutting, shredding, or thermal destruction.
      • Cryptography and Cryptographic Erase:
        • Self-Encrypting Drives (SEDs) with integrated encryption and access control capabilities.
        • Cryptographic Erase (CE) sanitizes data by purging the encryption key.
        • Only use CE when confident that encryption keys were appropriately protected.


Proper media and data sanitization are crucial when retiring information systems. Organizations must follow guidelines for media sanitization to protect the confidentiality of data stored on various media types. Clearing, purging, or destroying media, along with the use of cryptographic erase, ensures that data remains inaccessible and prevents unauthorized data recovery attempts. By implementing these guidelines, organizations can mitigate the risks associated with media disposal and safeguard sensitive information.



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Note: This article has been drafted and improved with the assistance of AI, incorporating ChatGTP suggestions and revisions to enhance clarity and coherence. The original research, decision-making, and final content selection were performed by a human author.


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