What is Data Erasure?

Dec 14, 2021 Technical Article

Data erasure is a term that is often confused with other data destruction methods, making it difficult to understand what it means.

Data Erasure: A Definition

Data erasure—one of the three acceptable methods for achieving data sanitization—is a software-based process of securely overwriting digitally stored information with random binary data according to a specified standard, then verifying and certifying that the erasure has been successful.  

Secure data erasure can occur in both active and inactive environments across a variety of IT assets, such as servers, PCs/laptops, mobile devices, removable media, and loose drives, as well as in large, virtualized data centers and cloud environments. 

  • For digital storage devices, erasing data means that zeros and ones are verifiably overwritten onto all sectors of the device. This renders all data permanently unrecoverable while preserving the functionality of the device.
  • For targeted sanitization, data erasure means that the specified file, folder, or location, such as a LUN, is verifiably overwritten while leaving non-targeted areas intact and operational.

What Data Erasure is Not  

There are a multitude of incomplete data sanitization methods that many incorrectly assume are interchangeable with data erasure. These incomplete data sanitization methods have not been proven to render the data on the appropriate storage devices unrecoverable. None of these methods include the verification and certification steps necessary to achieve data sanitization.

See the list of incomplete data sanitization methods below:  

Why is Data Erasure Important? 

True erasure is essential so that public and private sector enterprises can guard against data vulnerabilities, comply with numerous data protection regulations, efficiently use resources, and incorporate eco-friendly practices—all within a complex portfolio of IT assets. 

Typical file-deletion commands don’t truly delete data; they simply remove pointers to the disk sectors where the data resides. Such “deleted” data can easily be recovered with common software tools. However, proper data sanitization is critical for data and device lifecycle management, such as device returns and data migration. Because enterprises typically use a wide range of drive and device technologies, it’s important that the right methods are applied to the right equipment for proper results, including when executing remote erasure, when data storage assets are miles away from technicians. 

Erasing data allows organizations to verify that their data is irrecoverable and provides organizations with tamper-proof certificates of erasure to ensure compliance with an increasing number of data protection regulations, including those that have data minimization, “right to erasure,” or “right to deletion” requirements.  

It also helps organizations transition toward more sustainable circular business models and away from less environmentally friendly methods of data and device destruction. With data erasure, organizations can safely resell or reuse devices without having to worry about sensitive data becoming compromised, while significantly reducing electronic waste. 

Ensure your sensitive data, regardless of underlying technology, is permanently sanitized at end-of-life.