What is Unshredding?

Here’s a shocker. Shredding does not destroy your documents completely and no, I haven’t lost my mind. If you value your privacy, then you need to know about what is Unshredding? Does it really happen? How can you protect yourself from it? These are the things we will be covering in this article today.

Shredders come in different qualities – personal shredders do not shred with the same rigor that the industrial shredders do, giving rise to possibility of reconstructing the shredded pieces. Being undisturbed, the shredded pieces of the document all tend to stick together. In addition, if the documents are shredded with the lines of text not being perpendicular to the blades, then lines of text may still be legible on the thin strips of the shredded“noodle”. Now you might think that all this technical detail and analysis of shredded pieces is way too much and that you are safe. Well, read on, and your opinion might just change just a little bit.

Many an attempt has been made to recover documents from shredded piles, ever since the early days of shredding. During the Iranian revolution and their takeover of the U.S embassy in Tehran in 1979, the Iranians enlisted the services of carpet weavers to reconstruct the shredded documents by hand, unshredding the pile. In this way, several documents were recovered and were later released by the Iranians in a book called “Documents from the US espionage Den”. As a result, since then, the US embassy has improved on its shredding techniques to include pulverizing, pulping and chemical decomposition.

Although Machine shredded paper are by and large unrecoverable and is mostly confetti, with the help of modern computers, the reassembling process of such confetti is not just possible, but actually pretty fast. The strips are scanned on both the sides and then are put together according to the computer. During May 2007, a team of German computer scientists in Berlin announced that they had completed a system to do digital unshredding of the fragments but it had taken them 4 years of work to get here. The engineers hope that their software and scanners would take a lot less than 5 years to do so, even after taking into account the durability of the paper, the varying textures of the paper, the different sizes and shapes of the fragments, the assortment of the printing used [from hand writing to dot matrix] as well as the ranges of edges [from sharp ends to ragged and handmade]. According to the project manager Jon Schneider “the numbers are tremendous. If you imagine putting a jigsaw puzzle at home, you may have a thousand pieces and a picture of what it is supposed to be like. Here, we have millions of pieces and no idea as to what they should look like in the end”. But still, they claim they can do it.

According to Robert Johnson of the national association for Information Destruction, there is a huge demand for document reconstruction these days. Commercial document reconstruction or unshredding is offered by many companies these days as a premium service. For optimum security, the documents should be shredded with the text lines at a horizontal position,(i.e. perpendicular to the blades of the shredder). The Enron documents were destroyed the wrong way by the company officials thus making it all the more easier for the officials to reconstruct them. Currently there is a massive effort underway to recover the shredded archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police. There are “millions of shredded papers that the panicked Stasi threw into garbage bags during the final days before the fall of the wall in 1989”. At the moment, about three hundred bags of the 16,000 bags of shredded paper have been reconstructed with success by three dozen people after a period of 6 years. And the German government is thinking of using modern computing methods for this purpose.

One of the problems with residential shredders that are not related to the unshredding issue is that they have been known to cause an injury every now and then. As a result of their ease of use, the residential shredders are more common these days and in spite of their narrow openings, still pose a sufficient danger to pets and small children. As some of these types can be left in a “stand by” mode, which would activate the cutting process if anything were to get inserted into the feed slot, one can see the danger to one’s pets and children. In order to reduce such risks, all that one would have to do is to unplug the shredder when not using it.

Professional companies like Shredex, a leading provider of Florida paper shredding services, understands these risks and takes care to shred your documents and make sure that they stay destroyed. If privacy is important to your business, then it is always a good idea to shred everything that is not needed and to do it with the help of professionals. It takes only one bad day to ruin a lifetime of effort as a result of a privacy lawsuit or identity theft. Are you willing to take that risk?