June 06, 2023

6 Physical Data Security Mistakes That Could Compromise Confidential Information

The threat of a breach of confidential information contained in physical assets such as paper and hard drives can arise both in and out of the office and can come from external individuals or trusted employees. According to Verizon's 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report, 82% of data breaches involved the human element, and some were of physical materials. 

It is crucial to consider using physical document and asset destruction measures, such as engaging professional paper shredding and hard drive destruction services, for items that are no longer needed. These practices can help safeguard businesses against malicious outsiders who may resort to dumpster diving in search of confidential information. They can also help protect against malicious insiders who can acquire confidential documents from insecure office areas such as print stations, desks, trash cans, or recycling bins.

Additionally, discarded electronic devices like USB keys and old hard drives that still contain sensitive data can be stolen. Regular destruction practices help to effectively mitigate these risks.

Common Physical Data Security Mistakes to Avoid

Learning to recognize physical data security risks will help businesses manage the disposal of confidential information correctly and securely. Here are six common mistakes to avoid to help safeguard sensitive information:

1. Leaving Confidential Data Exposed

There are many ways to inadvertently expose confidential data, from leaving sensitive information on the desk rather than a locked cabinet, to leaving a computer screen unattended and visible to those around. Always protect and shield private information in public spaces. In the workplace, a clean desk policy helps reduce the risk.

2. Throwing Documents in Unsecured Bins

It is a common misconception that disposing of confidential information in a regular trash can or recycling bin is a safe method. This practice should not be used to discard unwanted data or even junk mail. Throwing documents into insecure bins can potentially jeopardize important information because anyone can take documents out when no one is looking. 

To help ensure secure collection as well as ultimate recycling of confidential information, use a professional shredding service like Shred-it®. Shred-it® uses locked consoles and NAID-certified processes, that help protect businesses against malicious intruders, who may resort to dumpster diving to get access to information. A professional information destruction company will provide these services and recommend a shred-it-all policy.

3. Stockpiling or Discarding Old Hard Drives

The above rule also applies to data on hard drives. A discarded hard drive creates a risk of possible data exposure. Instead of stockpiling old hard drives, consider securely destroying them by using a service like Shred-it®, which uses machinery to permanently and totally damage the device, making any data recovery impossible.

4. Using a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Shredder

Businesses often think it may be easier and more cost-effective to manage paper destruction in-house. However, there are hidden costs in the DIY approach that could make it less economical than outsourcing. Some areas where hidden expenses can arise are:

  • Security: If sensitive documents are not completely destroyed, data theft and compliance violations could arise. Standard home office shredders often slice paper into vertical or horizontal strips, which can be easily reassembled. Shred-it®, by contrast, cuts paper into confetti-sized pieces, making reassembly impossible.
  • Productivity: Every minute staff spend prepping and feeding paper through an office shredder is time they are not spending on mission-critical tasks, which could cost money for businesses. Depending on the volume of paper that needs shredding, costs can add up quickly.
  • Equipment: In addition to paying for staff time, businesses also have the expense of purchasing, maintaining, and repairing equipment. Depending on shredding needs, reliable, commercial-grade equipment can be costly.
  • Worker safety: Office and personal use shredders can present a safety risk for employees. When not used properly, office and personal shredders could result in serious injuries ranging from lacerations to finger amputations.

5. Lacking Employee Training

According to Shred-it®’s 2022 Data Protection Report, lack of employee training is a growing concern for small businesses that fear their organization is vulnerable to data breaches (66%). Almost half (48%) of the small business leaders surveyed believe that employee error is a main source of data breaches. Regular employee training can help employees better understand their role in helping the organization remain secure and the actions to take in the event of a data breach.

6. Not Having an Incident Response Plan

An incident response plan is a documented, written plan for staff detailing procedures to detect, respond to, and limit the consequences of a malicious attack. These plans are designed to save time and reduce staff stress should a data breach occur, as it keeps all personnel aware of their assigned duties. Without intentional plans and clearly designated tasks, businesses can risk worsening a data breach incident, potentially damaging their reputations and budgets.

How to Dispose of Physical Data Securely

Businesses can use a trusted professional shredding service like Shred-it® that offers a variety of shredding options:

  • One-time shredding: Shred-it® will perform a one-time collection of documents.
  • Regularly-scheduled shredding: Lockable containers are provided in addition to regularly scheduled pickups.
  • Drop-off shredding: Drop off documents at a local Shred-it® office.
  • Free shredding events: Bring a box of papers to a community shred event.
  • Mobile shredding services: Shred-it® performs the shredding of documents on-site.
  • Residential shredding: In addition to office-based pickups, Shred-it® collects documents from residences.
  • Specialty shredding servicesFor businesses who require the secure destruction of non-paper items such as price books, media, medical records, exams, expired IDs, old uniforms, and more.
  • Hard drive destructionData can be recovered from devices, even if it has been manually deleted. Shred-it® offers state-of-the-art technology to permanently delete hard drive data by physically destroying the device. Contact Shred-it® for availability.

Learn how Shred-it® can help protect personal and professional confidential information with secure document disposal and electronic device destruction.