Hello all! Stephanie here with some important security information for any business that uses a digital copy machine.
Do you remember the last 20,000 documents copied in your office? Probably not. Your copy machine, on the other hand, may be able to recall every detail in every one of those documents - including a lot of sensitive information. According to a CBS News report from April of this year, most digital copiers made after 2002 contain a hard drive that stores an image of every document scanned. While this may seem like an efficient backup system, it is really a major security threat to any company. As CBS journalist Armen Keteyian demonstrated, any individual with a bit of time and some free software from the Internet can pluck the hard drive from a used copier and access all of the stored images – your payroll information, social security numbers, the works. An old copier may be one company’s trash and another identity thief’s treasure.
Don’t go running to shove your copier out the window just yet! Your data will be secure as long as the copier’s hard drive is safely stored within the machine itself, in your office. The trouble arises when it is time to dispose of the machine. Your used copier, teeming with sensitive data waiting to be unlocked, can easily find its way into the hands of another company (domestic or foreign) or an enterprising data thief. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to make sure your classified information stays between your business and your copier:
1. Encryption Services - Some manufacturers, such as Sharp, offer data encryption services for hard drive data. This prevents your everyday hacker from accessing the information, but the service is pricey and may not be able to protect your documents from a particularly skilled and motivated data thief.
2. Basic Hard Drive Wipe - Most manufacturers provide information on how to wipe the copier hard drive using the machine’s software interface. At the very least, you should follow these instructions before disposing of your machine. However, simply deleting the files in this manner does not fully erase them from the hard drive (learn more here), and there are data recovery programs that can resurrect the files that you thought you “deleted”. Is anyone really going to take the time to pull all of those old files from your copier? For most small businesses, the answer is probably “no,” and a hard drive wipe will be enough to protect their documents once their copier is moved to the dumpster. However, larger companies or companies with a lot of sensitive information, especially financial information, may want to go further than just a basic file deletion.
3. Advanced Hard Drive Wipe (AKA Total Destruction) – The surefire way to remove your documents from a copier’s hard drive is to destroy the drive altogether, and put a fresh drive in its place. CBS News pointed to Digital Copier Security, Inc., a California-based company that uses its “INFOSweep” process to destroy a copier hard drive, along with any other traces of old data on the machine.
If you don’t have the budget to pay for such a service, there is a much more convenient and low-tech way to destroy the drive – take it out of the machine and hit it with a hammer (or other blunt object of your choice – you can be creative with this one). In addition to being an easy way to permanently erase any data on the hard drive, this method of destruction is also very therapeutic. If you wish to resell the machine, you can purchase a replacement hard drive (check the manufacturer’s website or search for your specific model online).
Note: Older photocopiers, built before the digital era (and even before 1984), contain an electrically charged drum that attracts toner particles to form your copied image. Heat and static electricity transfer the toner from the drum to paper. The drum is cleaned off after every copy, so the image of your document is not stored in the machine. If you are worried about data clinging to the drum, you can perform a sort of “manual wipe” by photocopying several pieces of black paper in succession. Some ink and a few sheets of paper are a small price to pay for a little peace of mind. More information about how older photocopiers work is available here.