CDs and DVDs have been a boon to Windows admins with their high storage capacities and ability to withstand damage. And they are also a boon
Discarded CDs and DVDs can take dumpster diving to a whole new level. This is especially true of departments or enterprises that use them to back up files. A single DVD can contain more than 4 GB of your precious data and is an easy object for someone to dig out of your trash. Even a disc thrown in the trash because of a failed write can still be coaxed into giving up critical information. Worse, many CDs and DVDs are write-only, which means they cannot be erased.
The best way to secure discarded CDs and DVDs is to shred them. This should be routine policy for any and all CDs, DVDs and floppy disks which are disposed of for any reason.
You can't really run CDs and DVDs, much less floppy disks, through a conventional paper shredder. There are, however, a number of dual-purpose or specialized shredders available that can handle the media. They range from lightweight tabletop units, which cost about $50 and can shred an occasional CD or DVD, to heavy-duty machines that can shred them by the hundreds and cost between $600 and $3,500. Companies like Alera and Kobra make shredders and they are available at office supply stores and Web sites.
If your needs are modest and you don't want to spend the money for a specialized shredder, you can always break CDs and DVDs by hand. Snap each one into at least four pieces and dispose of the pieces in at least two different wastebaskets. Spreading the pieces around will discourage dumpster divers from getting creative with the Super Glue. This isn't as secure as shredding, but it is cheaper and accomplishes the same goal.
Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80 K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.
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This was first published in May 2005