When it comes to data destruction other than paper, hard drives and computers are probably the first thing that come to mind. However, there’s a whole host of office equipment that also has storage media inside of it. It’s easy to forget about these other devices, since we aren’t necessarily aware that documents are being saved.
Before you throw away that printer or scanner, it’s important to understand how these devices store information. Your organization could be put at risk by the simple fact that many people aren’t aware of where sensitive information may be hiding. As devices become smarter and more interconnected, the risk for data leakage increases.
What Office Equipment has Storage Capabilities?
Computers aren’t the only devices that can put your information at risk. Did you know that printers, scanners, and even fax machines store information? In most cases it doesn’t matter if that machine is hard-wired or wireless. For the past 30 years, nearly every device in this category has the capability of storing information.
The reason for this is a positive one is most instances. When you send a job to a printer for example, it saves that job in the internal memory to print more efficiently. This often eliminates potential lag time, or stalled jobs due to network connectivity issues. This way, once the printer receives the job, it can print quickly and accurately, even in areas with spotty internet. Most of us would agree that this is a good thing, but it’s important to understand the implications.
Scanners and fax machines operate along the same principal. These are just some of the most common examples. There are much more complex machines like 3D printers, and computer aided drafting (CAD) equipment that also store media. How much data these machines store can vary greatly. It often depends on what the machine is used for, its age, and complexity.
How Do These Devices Store Information?
As computers become more sophisticated, so do the accessories around it. Most devices these days share connectivity over a shared wi-fi network in a home or office setting. Some of these devices even contain actual hard drives to help them run more efficiently. For the most part, most of these devices use simple flash storage media. All of this of course depends on the sophistication of the device in question. There are generally two types of storage in the these devices, sometimes using only one or both.
Volatile Storage Media
This is what would be considered “short term memory” in a device, much like RAM in a modern computer. Simply put, devices store the print or scanning job temporarily. It may only be for the duration of the job, or until the device is powered down completely. In most cases, unplugging a device for about 60 seconds is enough to reset the volatile memory in a device. It’s difficult, but not impossible to retrieve this data.
Non-Volatile Storage Media
This is the storage you need to worry about. Non-volatile storage means that the information remains even after powering down the machine completely. It can remain indefinitely depending on the type of device. While your particular printer or scanner may not contain a physical hard drive, it contains what programmers call a “circular buffer“.
A circular buffer stores information in a loop or queue. This means that the job remains on the device until another job overwrites it. It goes in order, so depending on how often you use the device, it could take a long time for previous jobs to be overwritten. Every device is different in this regard, as some can hold a few dozen print jobs while other may hold a few thousand.
What Should You Do to Erase or Destroy Stored Information?
First and foremost, you should have any office equipment that has storage capabilities professionally destroyed. This includes computers and hard drives, as well as printers and scanners. When in doubt, leave the destruction to the professionals. Professional destruction is the only way to guarantee that sensitive information is gone forever. When it comes to printers and scanners, even hitting reprint can duplicate a sensitive document you wouldn’t want exposed.
If you’re not quite ready for absolute destruction, there are a few things you can do. First, unplug your machine for at least 60 seconds. In most cases, this will reset your volatile data, rendering it useless. For the non-volatile data, it’s recommended that you send several complicated print jobs through the queue, resetting the circular buffer. How many jobs will depend on the individual device.
Last but not least, check to see if your machine has a factory reset option. If it does, factory reset the device multiple times to rewrite any sensitive information. Most smart devices have this option, but if not, follow both of the steps above.
Do You Need Electronic Media Destruction Services? Shred Nations Can Help.
Shred Nations offers hard drive destruction, electronic media destruction services, and proper electronics recycling to ensure all the data on the electronic equipment you’re retiring is completely unrecoverable. Our network of contractors allows us to come to your location if you need to ensure a proper chain of custody, or the ability to have you ship your drives to a secure facility to be destroyed.
You are provided a certificate of destruction that details when and where the hard drive was destroyed, and then pieces are separated into component parts and recycled.
To get started, fill out the form to the right, or give us a call at (800) 747-3365 to get free quotes on your project in minutes.