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US-CERT issues guide on how to properly dispose of your electronic devices

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The old hard disk drive is disintegrating in space. Conception of passage of time and obsolete technology


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Over the past few years, there have been numerous reports, and studies about how second-hand devices that have been put up for sale still contained information from previous owners, exposing those individuals to scams, blackmailing, or identity theft.

This week, the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), a division part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has published an official advisory with instructions and recommendations for properly deleting data from electronic devices that a user wishes to dispose of in one form or another.

These instructions are universal and can be applied to computers, smartphones, tablets, cameras, media players, external storage devices, and even gaming consoles.

Many of these recommendations are also common knowledge for IT industry veterans, but the guide was also written with non-technical users in mind. So let’s take a deep dive into the proper device sanitization procedures.

1. Backing up data

The first –and pretty obvious– step before attempting any device sanitization operation is to back up your data. We won’t go too deep into this one. There are various methods and software that can help you with that. Any cursory Google search will unearth hundreds of tutorials for backing up data from almost any type of device, from PCs to gaming consoles.

2. Deleting data

This second step might sound simple, but it’s not. Deleting data might not be as trivial as it sounds, and sometimes deleted data still hangs around, depending on your device and its OS quirks, and data may reside in memory cards you forget to pull out of the devices you sell.

  • Computers – Use disk cleaning software designed for your OS to permanently remove the data stored on a computer hard drive or other attached storage mediums to prevent the possibility of recovery. There are plenty of open source tools for performing a “secure erase,” but some operating systems also come with built-in tools. Check step 3 for some links.
  • Smartphones and tablets – Ensure that all data is removed from your device by performing a “hard reset.” This will return the device to its original factory settings. Each device has a different hard reset procedure, but most smartphones and tablets can be reset through their settings. In addition, physically remove the memory card and the subscriber identity module (SIM) card, if your device has one, before giving away or selling the device.
  • Digital cameras, media players, and gaming consoles – Perform a standard factory reset (i.e., a hard reset) and physically remove the hard drive or memory card.
  • Office equipment (e.g., copiers, printers, fax machines, multifunction devices) – Remove any memory cards from the equipment. Perform a full manufacture reset to restore the equipment to its factory default.

It is advised that users don’t sell or give away devices that still contain their old memory cards. Memory cards should be pulled from any device. But if you have to, it’s advised to delete any data from those cards as well. Attaching the memory card to a card reader or through the device itself, and then connecting it to a PC will let users securely wipe the card.

3. Overwriting your old data

But just deleting your data isn’t usually enough. Leftover information can still reside in unallocated storage space. Forensics software can help buyers or new owners investigate old devices for any data that was left over on a device’s storage.

To prevent attackers from recovering any old files, it is recommended that users overwrite storage devices with random binary data.

Windows has a built-in utility that can do this, named cipher.exe, but users can also use the “format” command with special parameters.

Macs also have a built-in feature to securely wipe and overwrite any attached storage, while on Linux there a tool named shred that can help users delete and overwrite data with one command.

Don’t forget. Don’t just overwrite hard drives. This operation can also be performed on USB thumb drives, memory cards, network attached storage (NAS) devices, and other storage systems.

4. Destroying

If you’re selling or handing down your device, this step is obviously optional. But if you’re working for a company or performing a Mr. Robot-like wipe down, here’s what US-CERT recommends in the case you need to physically destroy your old equipment, for legal or compliancy reasons.

Physical destruction of a device is the ultimate way to prevent others from retrieving your information. Specialized services are available that will disintegrate, burn, melt, or pulverize your computer drive and other devices. These sanitization methods are designed to completely destroy the media and are typically carried out at an outsourced metal destruction or licensed incineration facility. If you choose not to use a service, you can destroy your hard drive by driving nails or drilling holes into the device yourself. The remaining physical pieces of the drive must be small enough (at least 1/125 inches) that your information cannot be reconstructed from them. There are also hardware devices available that erase CDs and DVDs by destroying their surface.

  • Magnetic media degaussers. Degaussers expose devices to strong magnetic fields that remove the data that is magnetically stored on traditional magnetic media.
  • Solid-state destruction. The destruction of all data storage chip memory by crushing, shredding, or disintegration is called solid-state destruction. Solid-State Drives should be destroyed with devices that are specifically engineered for this purpose.
  • CD and DVD destruction. Many office and home paper shredders can shred CDs and DVDs (be sure to check that the shredder you are using can shred CDs and DVDs before attempting this method).

A NIST guideline from 2014 also provides additional instructions, if you have the time to go through 64 pages of more technical information.

If not, the instructions put forward by US-CERT should be more than enough. The advice is sorely needed, as several studies and surveys from past years have proven that many users tend to forget to wipe data from their devices:

  • A 2010 survey revealed that 50% of the second-hand mobile phones sold on eBay came with files and data on previous owners.
  • A 2012 survey conducted by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) showed that one in ten second-hand hard drives still contained data from previous owners.
  • A 2015 study found that three-quarters of used hard drives contained data from previous owners.
  • A 2018 study by the University of Hertfordshire revealed that almost two-thirds of second-hand memory cards still contain data artifacts from previous owners.

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GigaOm Radar for DDoS Protection

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With ransomware getting all the news coverage when it comes to internet threats, it is easy to lose sight of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks even as these attacks become more frequent and aggressive. In fact, the two threats have recently been combined in a DDoS ransom attack, in which a company is hit with a DDoS and then a ransom demanded in exchange for not launching a larger DDoS. Clearly, a solid mechanism for thwarting such attacks is needed, and that is exactly what a good DDoS protection product will include. This will allow users, both staff and customers, to access their applications with no indication that a DDoS attack is underway. To achieve this, the DDoS protection product needs to know about your applications and, most importantly, have the capability to absorb the massive bandwidth generated by botnet attacks.

All the DDoS protection vendors we evaluated have a cloud-service element in their products. The scale-out nature of cloud platforms is the right response to the scale-out nature of DDoS attacks using botnets, thousands of compromised computers, and/or embedded devices. A DDoS protection network that is larger, faster, and more distributed will defend better against larger DDoS attacks.

Two public cloud platforms we review have their own DDoS protection, both providing it for applications running on their public cloud and offering only cloud-based protection. We also look at two content delivery networks (CDNs) that offer only cloud-based protection but also have a large network of locations for distributed protection. Many of the other vendors offer both on-premises and cloud-based services that are integrated to provide unified protection against the various attack vectors that target the network and application layers.

Some of the vendors have been protecting applications since the early days of the commercial internet. These vendors tend to have products with strong on-premises protection and integration with a web application firewall or application delivery capabilities. These companies may not have developed their cloud-based protections as fully as the born-in-the-cloud DDoS vendors.

In the end, you need a DDoS protection platform equal to the DDoS threat that faces your business, keeping in mind that such threats are on the rise.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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GigaOm Radar for Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) Solutions

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The security information and event management (SIEM) solution space is mature and competitive. Most vendors have had well over a decade to refine their products, and the differentiation among basic SIEM functions is fairly small.

In response, SIEM vendors are developing advanced platforms that ingest more data, provide greater context, and deploy machine learning and automation capabilities to augment security analysts’ efforts. These solutions deliver value by giving security analysts deeper and broader visibility into complex infrastructures, increasing efficiency and decreasing the time to detection and time to respond.

Vendors offer SIEM solutions in a variety of forms, such as on-premises appliances, software installed in the customers’ on-premises or cloud environments, and cloud hosted SIEM-as-a-Service. Many vendors have developed multi-tenant SIEM solutions for large enterprises or for managed security service providers. Customers often find SIEM solutions challenging to deploy, maintain, or even operate, leading to a growing demand for managed SIEM services, whether provided by the SIEM vendor or third-party partners.

SIEM solutions continue to vie for space with other security solutions, such as endpoint detection and response (EDR), security orchestration automation and response (SOAR), and security analytics solutions. All SIEM vendors support integrations with other security solutions. Many vendors also offer tightly integrated solution stacks, allowing customers to choose the solutions they need most, whether just a SIEM, a SIEM and a SOAR, or some other combination. Other vendors are incorporating limited EDR- or SOAR-like capabilities into their SIEM solutions for customers who want the extra features but are not ready to invest in multiple solutions.

With so many options, choosing a SIEM solution is challenging. You will have to consider several key factors, starting with your existing IT infrastructure. Is an on-premises SIEM the right choice for you, or do you want a cloud-based or hybrid solution? Which systems and devices will be sending data to your SIEM, and how much data will it need to collect, correlate, analyze, and store? You should also consider the relative importance of basic capabilities and advanced features, bearing in mind that the basic capabilities may be considerably easier to deploy, maintain, and operate. Will your IT and security teams be able to deploy, maintain, and operate the solution on their own, or should you look for managed services to handle those tasks?

This GigaOm Radar report details the key SIEM solutions on the market, identifies key criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting a SIEM, and identifies vendors and products that excel. It will give you an overview of the key SIEM offering and help decision-makers evaluate existing solutions and decide where to invest.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Solution

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Although ransomware is making all the headlines today, it’s not the only kind of attack that can intrude between you and your customers. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which a target website is overwhelmed with spurious traffic, have become increasingly common.

Websites and online applications have become critical to how businesses communicate with their customers and partners. If those websites and applications are not available, there is a dollars and cents cost for businesses, both directly in business that is lost and indirectly through loss of reputation. It doesn’t matter to the users of the website whether the attacker has a political point to make, wants to hurt their victim financially, or is motivated by ego—if the website is unavailable, users will not be happy. Recent DDoS attacks have utilized thousands of compromised computers and they can involve hundreds of gigabits per second of attack bandwidth. A DDoS protection platform must inspect all of the traffic destined for the protected site and discard or absorb all of the hostile traffic while allowing legitimate traffic to reach the site.

Often the attack simply aims vast amounts of network traffic at the operating system under the application. These “volumetric” attacks usually occur at network Layer 3 or 4 and originate from compromised computers called bots. Few companies have enough internet bandwidth to mitigate this much of an attack on-premises, so DDoS protection needs to be distributed to multiple data centers around the world to be effective against these massive attacks. The sheer scale of infrastructure required means that most DDoS platforms are multi-tenant cloud services.

Other attacks target the application itself, at Layer 7, with either a barrage of legitimate requests or with requests carefully crafted to exploit faults in the site. These Layer 7 attacks look superficially like real requests and require careful analysis to separate them from legitimate traffic.

Attackers do not stand still. As DDoS protection platforms learn to protect against one attack method, attackers will find a new method to take down a website. So DDoS protection vendors don’t stand still either. Using information gathered from observing all of their protected sites, vendors are able to develop new techniques to protect their clients.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

Continue Reading

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