‘Formatting is not enough’: proper device disposal, explained

A Dubai start-up is campaigning for more responsible retirement of electronic equipment

Tags: GreenUAskmE (uaskme.me)United Arab Emirates
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‘Formatting is not enough’: proper device disposal, explained If you just format a hard disk it is like ‘tearing the index from a reference book’, Dubai start-up UAskME explains.
By  Stephen McBride Published  September 20, 2015

The Internet of Things is not short of solutions and equipment vendors ready to spout mind-bending statistics on just how many devices are out there and how many might be out there in years to come: 15bn, 20bn, 25bn now; growing to 50bn, 75bn in 2020 or 2025 - it seems everybody has their go-to figures.

In the library of articles written on the subject, a confusing jumble of angles, and potential opportunities or threats, is used to present the IoT landscape: analytics, managed services, BYOD, security, sys-admin headaches, and many, many others. But one Dubai-based company is asking some hard questions about device growth that rarely make an appearance in discussion forums or media reports.

As the number of devices grows, so too does the rate at which individual users, and organisations, discard old devices. And in a BYOD world, abandoned devices may have corporate data on them. Even if they don't, there will certainly be data related to the individual user that they may not want perused by strangers. Such are the points made by UAskmE, a UAE start-up with green IT as its core business.

So the questions, relevant to both organisation and individual, are: Where are these discarded devices? Sitting in a drawer? Sold to a third party? What data is on them? Could it make the individual or organisation vulnerable? One of the first solutions that springs to mind is: wipe the device. But even a full format of a storage medium may not be enough.

"Think of a laptop hard-disk as a reference book; formatting that disk means you have [merely] torn out the index," Kenneth Neil, director, UAskmE, tells ITP.net. "[But] if you Google ‘retrieve information from formatted hard-disk', there are probably 100,000 pages of guides on how to do that. And it is becoming the same way with phones and tablets."

Neil estimates the number of devices decommissioned in the UAE per year is the equivalent of "easily" one per person, per year.

"You look at the average household here," he says. "Laptops, tablets, phones, [and soon] watches."

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