Valuable information may be leaking out of data centers. According to Imation Corp., Oakdale, Minn., a re-cent trend suggests companies are improperly disposing of used data storage products when they have reached the end of their lives. The trend also includes the growing practice of selling used computer tape cartridges that have not been properly wiped of data.

“Despite the data storage industry’s warnings, companies continue to put themselves at risk. The only way to securely dispose of used tape media is through a reputable tape destruction service that provides a certificate of destruction,” said Subodh Kulkarni, vice president, Global Commercial Business, research and development and manufacturing, Imation Corp. “Tests in our lab of more than 100 commercially obtained tape cartridges confirmed that significant data ‘leakage’ is occurring as a result of the practice of ‘recertify-ing’ instead of properly destroying used tape.”

Data leaks occur when data storage managers sell or give tape cartridges containing company data to a reseller who claims to erase or de-stroy the data. The reseller often recertifies the cartridges without fully erasing the data, then sells them back into the market. In many cases, the data storage managers, who increasingly face budget constraints, are unaware of this practice. According to Imation, an estimated one million cartridges are recertified each year.

While the practice of reselling used tape was established to mitigate budget constraints, the costs associated with data breaches can far outweigh any savings. According to industry analysts and others who study the financial, security and reputation risks of data breaches, the cost to companies resulting from the failure to protect data is growing each year.

A 2006 report from the Ponemon Institute determined the average cost to companies per lost customer as a result of a data breach is $182. Multiply this by the thousands of individual records that may remain on improperly retired used-data storage products, and the financial risk to these companies becomes apparent. In addition, the study found that more than 90 percent of data breaches occur in digital form, and the costs associated with data loss are rising into the billions of dollars each year.

“In our lengthy testing and analysis, which has spanned many months, we have confirmed industry guidance that the only way to properly dispose of data is to destroy the media itself,” Kulkarni said. “The technical truth is there is no practical and secure way to completely erase and ‘recertify’ most used tape products.”