When we hit that good old “delete” key, what happens behind the scenes? Does the file evaporate? Do the 1’s and 0’s cease to exist? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
When you delete a file on a modern file system, the data on the disk is not actually deleted. Instead, only the named references to that file are deleted. So if one were to really want some data that had been deleted, one could recover the data with special software that inspects the disk itself for the written bits.
In fact, there is a bit of effort involved in actually deleting data. To securely delete unencrypted data, secure deletion tools overwrite files with random data, obscuring their contents, and then delete the files. After this process, the physical locations where those files were stored now contain random data with no resemblance to the original file data.
Proper Retention and Disposal
This is the exact reason why retention and disposal policies should be strictly adhered to. If you’re deleting a file or replacing a bad disk in a computer that held personal health information (PHI), proper disposal methods need to be in place to ensure that PHI doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
At Systeem, we recommend using a recycling company that we’ve partnered with, such as Computer Crusher. They use a certified hard drive-crushing device that literally pulverizes the disk to an unusable state. After a drive has met their press, no one will be able to read those disks.
Additionally, another way of thwarting would-be PHI thieves is to encrypt disks, where possible, within the network. Not only does this keep wrong-doers at bay, but if a breach were to occur, such as a stolen laptop, there would be lower possibility of reporting a breach to CMS or news outlets due to the disk encryption.
If you’re interested in understanding more about easy safeguards you and your team can implement to further protect critical ePHI, please contact Systeem at 940.484.0850 or send us an e-mail.