'Information Destruction' Grows

October 28, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — In February of this year, computer hackers breached the file servers of ChoicePoint Inc., a clearinghouse of personal identification data. A few weeks later, it was Bank of America’s turn to tell customers that it had misplaced data tapes containing information about 1.2 million customers. Then 32,000 Lexis-Nexis users had their personal information stolen. As these security breaches become more numerous and more widely publicized, companies are becoming increasingly conscious of how they handle the confidential information they are entrusted with. To deal with printed confidential documents, many companies are turning to the services of “information destruction” firms.

Secure EcoShred is one of several companies in West Michigan in the business of information destruction. In laymen’s terms, that means making legible documents illegible by shredding them. Partners Brian and Michael Gumbko started the Grand Rapids office of the Detroit-area shredding firm in January. They have already won several important contracts, including Spectrum Health and Ferris State University.

“I think people feel a greater need now to just watch their assets,” said Brian Gumbko. He and his brother have found West Michigan to be a welcoming market. Although there are half a dozen information destruction companies serving the area, the demand for their services is growing. The Gumbkos said that every news story about identity theft, and every new law designed to protect sensitive information, results in new business for them.

Rodney Martin, an attorney at Warner Norcross & Judd, and a member of his firm’s Privacy and Security Taskforce, counsels his clients on the need to protect sensitive information. When it comes to paper documents, he said shredding is the answer.

“Any business that has employees has a need for the ability to destroy documents in an appropriate fashion, rather than just throwing them out,” said Martin. “They may not all need the services of a document destruction company, but at least they need a very good shredder.”

That’s where folks like the Gumbkos would disagree. They argue against in-house, employee-run document shredding for a number of reasons. First, they claim their service is  “at least 20 percent cheaper” than the labor necessary to pay an employee to shred documents. They also boast of their added security — both because of their employee screening policy and the security inherent in their process.

Secure EcoShred provides locked steel consoles to its clients. A client’s employees place documents into the consoles, like books into a library return chute. Secure EcoShred’s $200,000 mobile shredding vehicle stops at the client’s office, collects the contents of the consoles, and shreds it all while parked outside. A client representative can monitor the shredding if desired.

Many of Secure EcoShred’s competitors do not offer this kind of on-location shredding. For the Gumbkos, that is the biggest differentiator of their business.

“Getting people to see that difference is probably the hardest selling point,” said Michael Gumbko. He uses a hypothetical example to illustrate the danger of taking unshredded documents off a client’s site.

“It’s 8 a.m. and there’s black ice on the highway. I see cars spinning out. What happens when (the competitor’s) truck spins out? With us if that happens it’ll be confetti going on the road, not intact documents,” he said.

It may seem very unlikely that a delivery vehicle would overturn on a highway and spill out confidential information that would, in turn, be picked up and exploited by an unscrupulous and savvy criminal. However, the whole shredding business is about being safe rather than sorry.

Martin is quick to point out that shredding is just one part of a much larger security and privacy system that a company must adopt. After all, the vast majority of the documents shredded by firms like Secure EcoShred are not hand-written. They are simply paper copies of computer files.

“And of course with paper,” said Martin, “the paper’s destroyed, but the information is still there.”    

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