New e-waste program protects identities, environment
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A new campus-wide program for e-waste and paper recycling at SF State hopes to lower waste emissions while protecting anyone with personal information in the University's system from potential identity theft.

The program, instituted last week, relieves the information technology department from the burden of having to overwrite or destroy sensitive information from e-waste such as computers, cell phones, PDAs or any electronic media capable of storing sensitive information.

"Concerns about data security have been a barrier to good practices concerning the recycling of paper and electronic waste," said Bruce Paton, associate professor of management at SF State and chair of the board of directors for Sustainable Silicon Valley. "Addressing those concerns can be expected to increase participation in recycling programs."

Before this program, teachers and administrators faced the burden of deleting sensitive information from their hard drives and other electronic devices by themselves. With the new program in effect Sims Recycling, the company contracted as SF State's sole e-waste vendor, will have the responsibility of deleting all personal information in a secure manner.

"The faculty do not have to attempt overwrite of the media or device memory on their own, a rather complex and time consuming process," said Mig Hofmann, information security officer with the IT department. "We have a secure chain of control in place with the vendor to ensure and document events from pickup to overwrite, for instance, the overwrite event is video recorded at the vendor's site."

The new program also mandates waste-paper with sensitive information be disposed of in bins provided by Citywide Fibers, which are designated for secure disposal.

The IT department said personal shredders should no longer be used as the quality of shredding varies from machine to machine and because the output of these machines is no longer accepted by most recyclers.

Disposal of e-waste will now come at no charge to SF State as the recovery of metals from recycled e-waste will cover the cost.

"The program helps ensure that e-waste that has a possible residual life outside of SF State is not destroyed but used fully to the end of its life with certification that all sensitive data has been overwritten," Hofmann said.

Aside from the potential for identity theft posed by e-waste disposed of irresponsibly, there is a significant environmental hazard stemming from improper dumping.

"Most e-waste gets shipped to third world countries where it is taken apart by people who have no adequate health and safety regulations," said Carlos Davidson, environmental studies program director. "People are poisoned and greatly harmed and the environment is harmed as chemicals from the waste are not properly handled."

According to Greenpeace, 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are discarded globally each year. That constitutes roughly five percent of all municipal solid waste.

Hofmann estimated that our campus generates about 20 tons of e-waste every year.

She believed the new program would help keep better track of how much waste we actually generate, giving us better control of our emissions.

"Our new e-waste vendor is providing more accurate and complete data," Hofmann said. "This includes weights of each pickup so we should have better numbers in about a year."

Despite the implementation of a secure disposal program, the IT department stressed the majority of identity theft still occurs through phishing.

In an email, they cautioned students to "beware of fake Web sites and e-mails that attempt to fool you into revealing usernames, passwords and credit card details," they also said to be weary of leaving cell phones and laptops unattended as they are easy targets for theft.

The campus will be sponsoring a National Cyber Awareness Day on Thursday, October 21 aimed at educating students on how to protect their identities online and on campus.
For more details on information security, contact the IT department at (415) 338-1420.

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