How to manage cyber liability risks when recycling your electronics

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Ensuring that your data remains secure is essential to properly disposing of your business's electronics.
A collection of electronics laid out on a desk.

When it’s time to get rid of your old computers, servers, and various electronics, recycling them is a much better option than just chucking it all in the trash. However, you don’t want the data on those electronics to get recycled, too.

“Many organizations are highly concerned with data security when their systems are up and running,” says Chris Zwicke, chief operating officer of Isidore Electronics Recycling.

Zwicke says companies are worried about hackers accessing…

  • Confidential information
  • Customers' Social Security numbers
  • Financial data

“Yet most of these organizations do not worry that this same information can be recovered from improperly disposed computers, hard drives, and smartphones,” he says.

Fortunately, ensuring that this data remains secure isn’t that difficult. It just requires a bit of preparation and caution when you decide to get rid of your electronics.

When getting rid of electronics, keep data security in mind

The easiest way to safely recycle your equipment is to choose an R2 or e-Stewards certified recycler, Zwicke says. “Both of these industry certifications cover environmental responsibility, data security, and occupational health and safety.”

Zwicke cautions to be wary of free services. “You already pay someone to shred your paper and haul your trash. But your electronics are a much greater data and environmental liability,” he says. “Beware companies offering a ‘free’ service because they are likely cutting corners, increasing your risk, and downstream liability.”

Just how do these certified recyclers protect your data? Zwicke describes three methods they have at their disposal:

  • Overriding. This method involves writing zeros across a hard drive’s memory sectors, effectively wiping it clean of any old data.
  • Degaussing. For disks, tapes, and other magnetic storage devices, a degausser (essentially a big magnet) can be used to set the magnetic field to a neutral state, erasing its data.
  • Physical destruction. Though there are many ways to physically destroy a hard drive, recyclers will often use a shredder so that the raw materials can't be gathered and reused.

A reputable e-cycler should be able to provide a certificate of data destruction after they take care of your memory drives.

But before anything, Zwicke says, you should ask yourself, “Am I OK with this drive being reused?” If the information it holds is highly sensitive or regulated, you should opt for physical destruction. You can also find ways to wipe your drives before you hand them off to a recycler.

Recycling electronics is a win for everybody

Don’t let data security scare you away from recycling. “Responsible electronics recycling is a win-win-win,” Zwicke says.

He explains recycling electronics can…

  • Prevent toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, and mercury from ending up in landfills where they can leach into our soil and water.
  • Recover valuable natural resources such as aluminum, copper, and gold more efficiently and with less environmental impact than mining virgin resources.
  • Create local green-collar jobs, many of which are well suited for people facing barriers to employment.

As an example for the last point, Isidore Electronics Recycling makes it a mission to hire those who’ve successfully exited California’s correctional system. Recycling is all about second chances, after all.

For day-to-day data security, remember to have cyber liability insurance

When you successfully and safely dispose of old electronics, remember that you can still be the victim of a data breach in a number of ways. It doesn’t take a stolen old hard drive to trigger a data breach. A phished password or lost laptop might be enough to give a cyber criminal all the information they want about you or your customers.

Brush up on data security best practices, and help protect your business with cyber liability insurance. This policy can help cover the costs of a data breach by paying for:

  • Customer credit monitoring
  • Notification
  • Forensics

Cyber liability insurance is quickly becoming an important form of protection in the digital age, especially for businesses that store sensitive information.

Compare quotes from trusted carriers with Insureon

Complete Insureon’s easy online application today to compare quotes for cyber liability and other types of insurance from top-rated U.S. carriers. Once you find the right policy for your small business, you can begin coverage in less than 24 hours.

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