Excess Paper? Shred It And Forget It

Much has been written in recent years about security needs surrounding electronic data, but little, if any attention is being paid to a somewhat older security threat: waste paper and media that contain critical information.

Despite all the talk today of “paperless” offices, the use of paper to output documents in offices continues to grow, albeit not as rapidly as storage of data in electronic form, says Lou Slawetsky, president of Industry Analysts, an independent office systems analyst firm based in Rochester, N.Y.

“Its a smaller piece of a very large pie,” he notes.

According to Fellowes Inc., a manufacturer and marketer of paper shredders based in Itasca, Ill., discarded paper is often implicated in cases of identity theft. The firm notes that from 2002 to 2003, “nearly 10 million peoplehave been victims of identity theft, costing them $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses and costing businesses a total of almost $48 billion.”

“Dumpster diving is still alive,” says Slawetsky in reference to the practice of combing through a companys or individuals garbage in order to unearth critical information like computer passwords, bank account numbers and confidential memos.

“People go through trash on both a personal and business level,” he explains. “Even junk mail may have personal information in the bar code on the envelope or on a piece of paper inside.”

Shredding the offending paper seems an obvious solution, but how does one choose wisely from the many shredding devices available? According to Katie Sacksteder, marketing manager for shredders at Fellowes, “Not all shredders are created equal. The power of the motor and the shredders capacity should match your needs.”

The key, says Sacksteder, is deciding on just how you will use the machine. Prospective buyers must ask themselves 3 key questions:

How many pieces of paper will I shred in a day? Once you have that figure, “double it,” she says, noting that customers almost invariably underestimate their needs. “This is especially important in the insurance industry with requirements to properly destroy clients financial information,” she adds.

What level of security do I need? “You probably need a pretty high level for insurance,” says Sacksteder. While lower security-level strip cut machines may be fine for some offices, crosscut or confetti shredders (which cut strips both horizontally and vertically) offer a higher level of security, she notes.

Is there anything besides paper that I want to shred? Such things would include paper clips, staples, credit cards, diskettes and CDs that contain data.

Once buyers have answered these questions, they must choose between light-duty, medium-duty and heavy-duty machines, depending on how much use they expect the machine to have. “At home, you dont need a high-performance machine,” Sacksteder says, “but insurance agents might need a pretty high level of performance.”

Personal shredders for home use and very small offices (up to 5 people) may range in price from $15 to $390, Sacksteder says. A commercial-level shredder suitable for an office department (6 to 10 people) would be at the upper end of that range. Higher-level shredders for larger operations may be priced from $500 to as much as $6,000, she adds. Such machines will typically offer more sheet capacity (as much as 21,000 pages per day), while high-security shredders will produce smaller confetti and may also be able to destroy floppy disks and CDs.

“Shredders are good,” says Slawetsky. “For $15 each, you can be a sport and get one for everybody in the office.” As to what kinds of things should be shredded, he recommends that users ask: “Would I be compromised if this showed up on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow?” An affirmative answer means the paper is a candidate for the shredder.

Slawetsky also points out that shredders need to be conveniently located in an office in order for people to use the machines. “If a shredder is not right thereon the wastebasket, for exampleyoure not going to use it,” he states.

For offices that have large volumes of paper that need to be quickly destroyed, commercial shredding companies are available to do the job. One such firm, All About Shredding of Mechanicsburg, Pa., allows customers to deposit confidential material into locked security containers. On a regular schedule, the company picks up the containers and shreds the contents into “unrecognizable bits.”

According to the All About Shredding Web site, “What takes an office shredder 10 hours, we destroy in 15 minutes for pennies per pound.” They add that this saves time and enhances productivity by allowing employees to avoid spending time shredding documents.

The Web site states that other materialspaper clips, three-ring binders, cassettes, microfiche and floppy disksalso can be destroyed via the service. Upon request, the company will even certify in writing that all of a customers documents were completely destroyed.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 30, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.