Disposing of IT assets the right way

Old computers can still pose a security risk even from the garbage heap. Here are some tips on how to keep your data safe.

Business analyst Edward Broderick encourages companies to treat their old computers like used cars -- trade them in when purchasing a new model.

Broderick, a principal business analyst with the Robert Frances Group, an IT executive advisory group, discussed the proper disposal of obsolete IT assets at "Reducing Risk, Restoring Trust: A Leadership Role for IT" conference held last week in New York City.

Disposing of old computer equipment is far more complicated than leaving it on the curb and waiting for the garbage truck to come by. It's never been easy because of environmental concerns. It's become even trickier nowadays, with malicious crackers able to suck customer information and corporate secrets off old hard drives -- even those that have been erased and reformatted several times, Broderick said. According to some computer experts, the only way to truly erase a hard drive is to grind it up into tiny pieces or riddle it with bullets, he said.

For CIOs reluctant to haul their old hard drives down to the firing range, following a few simple guidelines can prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Here's Broderick's advice for companies looking to offload old computer equipment:

Trade in the old when you buy new. Make the acceptance and proper disposal of old computers a condition of contracts for new computer purchases.

Don't cheap out. There's probably only a small monetary difference between the best and worst offers you'll receive from companies offering to dispose of old computer equipment. But the amount you might pay in a lawsuit if customer information is compromised or lose in business if corporate secrets leak out could be enormous.

Remember other savings. Cutting out warehousing and other storage costs for the old equipment will bring in future savings.

Indemnify with insurance or transfer of liability. If you contract with a company to dispose of your old computers and personal information about your customers gets pulled, you don't want to be on the hook. Include indemnification and liability transfer as part of any contract to dispose of your contract. Consider insurance.

Consider reputation. To keep from being burned, choose reputable companies like IBM or technology service firm QSGI, which had staff members present at the conference.

Broderick also stressed that the disposal of obsolete computer equipment is becoming a big business, so companies should not feel like they have to take the first offer they receive.

IBM has a program that recycles every possible computer part -- from fans to power sources and even the wiring, Broderick said, and disposes of hard drives properly. And if there are no worthwhile components, IBM will strip out and sell the base elements, like copper and nickel.

"Recycling is profitable," Broderick said. "Low prices generally result in low security."

This article originally appeared on SearchCIO.com.

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