Data Tape Destruction: Maintaining Compliance at Scale

Hand removing a data tape from an archiveProper data sanitization isn’t optional: If your enterprise stores sensitive data, you have an ethical obligation (and in most cases, a legal obligation) to follow appropriate protocols for storage media destruction. 

The most commonly cited standards for data tape destruction can be found in the NIST’s Special Publication 800-88 (PDF), which also outlines processes for sanitizing hard drives, solid-state drives, and other data storage media.   

However, at scale, following the NIST’s recommendations — along with other specific compliance standards — can be difficult. Depending on the characteristics of your data, you may need to retain records of all processes used to treat media.

Additionally, every tape must undergo identical processes, and the results of sanitization must be regularly audited and verified. A single LTO-8 cartridge has a compressed storage capacity of 30 terabytes (TB), and an improperly handled degaussing could put enormous amounts of personally identifiable information at risk. A 10-cm piece of tape from an LTO-8 cartridge may contain 3 gigabytes of data.

If you’re planning a large-scale data tape sanitization project, here are key considerations to keep in mind.

Choosing a Compliant Tape Destruction Process

NIST 800-88 outlines three basic options for sanitization: 

  • Clear – Intended only for media that will remain within an organization. Clearing consists of overwriting data at least one time with known non-sensitive signals. As the NIST notes, clearing by overwriting may be impractical for most applications, since overwrites require extensive time.
  • Purge – Data that will leave an organization’s control may be purged by degaussing magnetic tape in an organizationally approved degausser rated at a minimum for the media.
  • Destroy – Tapes should be incinerated in a licensed incinerator or shredded.

As we’ve discussed in other articles, incineration carries a heavy environmental cost, and maintaining an appropriate chain of custody can be difficult. Shredding is secure when handled correctly — but shredding processes are mostly automatic. 

NIST requires shredders to use a shred size that is “small enough that there is reasonable assurance in proportion to the data confidentiality, that the data cannot be reconstructed.”

Given the extreme density of modern tape cartridges, we believe that typical media shredders are not secure enough for data tape sanitization. Total Data Migration’s team was able to reconstruct some data from a set of LTO tapes shredded to 6 millimeters — bad actors could certainly gain valuable data with access to shredded media.

Planning for At-Scale Data Tape Destruction

The safest practice is to purge tapes with an appropriate degausser, then shred the media (if necessary) to comply with NIST 800-88 and other standards. 

But with large libraries of tapes, this is easier said than done. Degaussing relies on tape orientation, so operators must have a working knowledge of data storage. 

Operators must also identify each tape and keep accurate documentation. It’s a time-consuming process — and if you’re assigning your IT staff to data sanitization, they’ll have less time to spend on other duties.

Safe and Efficient Data Tape Sanitization for At-Scale Applications

For larger tape cartridge sanitization and destruction projects, we strongly recommend working with a reputable tape partner. Managing compliance requires equipment, time, and experience — and an expert partner can reduce the cost of your project while ensuring a quick turnaround. 

Advantages of working with Total Data Migration for your next tape destruction project:

  • Reliable turnaround times. By maintaining appropriately related degaussers — and a staff of data experts — we’re able to provide fast turnarounds, even for archive-level collections.
  • Compliance-ready documentation. We maintain a secure chain of custody and can provide written verification of compliant purge-and-destroy processes.
  • Full support for data migration. In many cases, data tape destruction occurs as the last step of a tape migration project. As world leaders in professional tape services, we can help you plan and execute an efficient migration. 

Whether you’re following NIST 800-88 or another standard, Total Data Migration is here to help. Call us today at (800) 460-7599 to find solutions for your next data destruction project.