Paper Shred Sizes (and What They Mean)

March 30, 2023 at 2:14 pm by Amanda Canale

When destroying any end-of-life data, whether it be paper, hard drives, solid state drives, or other forms of media, there are very strict guidelines and laws that address how classified, top secret, and controlled unclassified information (CUI) should be disposed and securely destroyed. These requirements are determined by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

For further context, the NSA mandates specific final particle sizes for top secret and/or classified data, regardless of the media form. They then evaluate and list end-of-life data destruction solutions that follow these mandates for destruction. (For a list of media destructions solutions evaluated and listed by the NSA, click here, and for more information what each data classification type really means, click here.)

While the federal government and government organizations are strict when it comes to how one should destroy end-of-life information, commercial companies and industries like healthcare, finance, banking, and more, are less stringent with their destruction instructions, with some left open to interpretation. 

Enter the DIN Standards. Also known as Deutsches Institut für Normung, DIN originated at the German Institute for Standardization in 1917 as a non-government organization that serves as the national standard when it comes to improving the rationalization, safety, environmental protection, and quality assurance between the government and the public. DIN is not often mandated but their guidelines serve as a widely accepted global standard while providing clarity to otherwise vague end-of-life information destruction mandates. 

DIN 66399 standards specifically provide end-of-life destruction particle size guidelines for information that resides on a wide range of media – including paper – and that specifies protection categories. (You can find more in-depth information about DIN standards here.) 

Even as we get further and further into the Digital Age, there is still such a high demand for paper. Some may say that paper is dead, but we know that paper will never really be dead. While the industries I listed above are not holding government secrets, they still store a lot of their sensitive and unclassified information on paper; information that needs to be securely destroyed or could result in severe consequences if it lands in the wrong hands.

Now that you have all of this background information, let’s get into why you’re here – what constitutes as a secure paper shred size? 

Seven Specific Security Levels 

P = Paper media requirements

Protection Category

Media Paper

Security Level

Security Level Particle Size Requirement

Class 1



12mm strips or maximum particle surface area of 2,000mm²

Class 1



6mm strips or maximum particle surface area of 800mm²

Class 1



2mm strips or maximum particle surface area of 320mm²

Class 2



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 160mm² with a maximum strip width of 6mm = 6 x 25mm

Class 2



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 30mm² with a maximum strip width of 2mm = 2 x 15mm

Class 3



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 10mm² with a maximum strip width of 1mm = 1 x 10mm

Class 3



Maximum cross-cut particle surface area of 5mm² with a maximum strip width of 1mm = 1 x 5mm

Here’s what each of these security levels look like:

DIN Level P-2 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-2 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-3 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-3 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-4 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-4 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-5 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-5 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-6 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-6 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-7 Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-7 Paper Shred
DIN Level P-7+ Paper Shred with penny for size comparison
DIN Level P-7+ Paper Shred, a 50% smaller particle size than NSA mandate for paper, produced by SEM Model 344.

As you can tell based on the table and photos above, P7 is the smallest, most secure particle size (aside from the 0.8mm x 2.5mm particle from our Model 344, which is half the size mandated by the NSA for classified paper). Essentially, the smaller the particle, the harder it is to put back together. 

Why would you want to put a bunch of paper shreds back together? To get top secret information, of course! 

Allow us to introduce the DARPA Shredder Challenge. The challenge was created by a research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Defense back in 2011. The DoD invited top computer scientists and puzzle enthusiasts to essentially reconstruct paper shreds for a grand prize. 

The challenge ended when the winning team, who went by the name, “All Your Shreds Belong to US”, created an algorithm that automatically reconstructed the 10,000 pieces of paper based on various physical aspects of the shred, such as shred angle, shred size, and paper marks. Other teams used strategies ranging from crowdsourced-style methods to relying heavily on manual reconstruction. 

When it comes to end-of-life data destruction, it is always best to err on the side of caution. By opting for in-house data destruction methods, you and your company or agency are making the most cost-effective, safe, and secure decision. At SEM we have an array of high-quality NSA listed/CUI and unclassified paper shredders to meet any regulation and mandate, ensuring all of your end-of-life paper stays end-of-life. Any one of our exceptional sales team members are more than happy to help answer any questions you may have and help determine which machine will best meet your destruction needs.

Data Privacy Day

January 30, 2023 at 5:10 pm by Amanda Canale

Every year on 28 January, the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) dedicates the entire week and 28 January specifically to bring awareness to the public on data protection and data security best practices. Even though we are diving deeper and deeper into the Digital Age, there’s still a large population of people who are not tech savvy, or frankly, even tech literate. The annual international campaign is called Data Privacy Day (DPD), and heavily focuses on educating people, both individuals and businesses, on how to comply with privacy laws and regulations. Moving forward, this will help the public know how they can better protect and manage their personally identifiable information (PII).

Millions of people across the globe are unaware of the various ways their PII is being used, collected, and shared, with many not knowing it’s also being sold by third parties. It’s this reality specifically why the NCA targets anyone with any sort of online presence. How did Data Privacy Day get its start? This internationally recognized day was initially established in 2008 in North America as an extension of Data Protection Day in Europe, which has been in effect since 1981. It is the first legally binding international treaty to recognize data privacy concerns. 

Last year, the NCA expanded Data Privacy Day into a week-long initiative called Data Privacy Week. The week-long campaign, lasting from 24-28 January, is filled with various steps, goals, and webinars individuals and organizations alike can make and attend as a way of encouraging transparency about how their PII is being used. 

You can find a full list of Data Privacy Week events here on the NCA’s website. Below, we break down the major takeaways both individuals and organizations should take from the week-long event.

Data: The Story of You

While you may not think your information is important or valuable, there are plenty of people out there who would do almost anything to obtain it. When it comes to keeping our PII and personal health information (PHI) safe, it is crucial to think of your personal data as the most valuable thing you own. If you were hiding some flashy, expensive, and highly coveted family heirloom, you would do anything to protect it, right? Think of your personal information as that heirloom; it is the most precious thing you have. Critical information such as your IP address, purchase history, and location can offer hackers a wealth of knowledge as to your income, spending habits, card information, and where you live. 

Know what to expect in the privacy/convenience tradeoff

Think about the last time you downloaded an app. What kind of information did you have to grant the app access to in order to use it? Share your geographic location? Grant access to your contacts and photo albums? For example, why does a puzzle app need access to my contacts and location in order for me to play? By allowing access to these very personal and private forms of information, you may be offering up much more than necessary.

When releasing or posting any private or personal information, it is best to make informed decisions on what you should do: weigh whether or not the information they are asking for is really necessary, how the benefits weigh against the tradeoff, and, honestly, if you really need the app at all. 

Adjust your privacy settings

If you decide to deem that puzzle app worthy of your phone storage and time, try to take an extra moment or two to review the app’s privacy and security settings, and adjust them to your comfort level as necessary. (I know, who even reads an app’s Terms and Agreements anymore, right? Wrong! You should!) While you’re at it, delete those apps you no longer use. In addition to taking up useless storage on your phone, they could also still be collecting data about you and your habits. 

You can get a head start with NCA’s Manage Your Privacy Settings page to get more information.

Protect your data

While data privacy and data security are not interchangeable, they are in fact a packaged deal. By adopting these practices, such as creating long and intricate passwords, utilizing multi-factor authentication when possible, and using a password manager you can continue to keep your passwords and information secure and up to date. 

Organization Level: Respect Privacy

As an organization, your consumers’ and customers’ private data should be your utmost concern. By respecting their data and being transparent, an organization instills trust which will in turn enhance reputations and company growth. 

Conduct an assessment

In a “post-COVID” world, more than 15% of total U.S. job opportunities are now remote. Regardless of if your organization operates fully remote, in a hybrid model, or is even located outside of the continental United States, it is important to understand the privacy laws and regulations in which your business operates and to ensure they are being followed. Especially when working with remote or hybrid employees, it’s best to reevaluate your security measures, access to individuals’ personal information, what that personal information may be and if it is still relevant to keep on file, and to maintain oversight of any outside partners and vendors as well to ensure they are not misusing your consumers’ information. 

Adopt a privacy framework

By adopting a privacy framework that works best for you and your consumers, an organization can help mitigate potential risk and implement a privacy culture within your organization. The NCA recommends reviewing the following frameworks to start: NIST Privacy FrameworkAICPA Privacy Management Framework, and ISO/IEC 27701 – International Standard for Privacy Information Management.

Educate employees

By creating an office culture surrounded by data privacy and data security, you are educating your employees on not only how to keep their personal information safe but how to better serve your consumers and their information. Engage staff by asking them how they view your current privacy culture, implement mandatory training and webinars, and consistently assess your current standards. 

In addition to these methods, transparency about how your collect, use, and share consumer information is crucial. Be up front and honest with your clients, users, or consumers about what they can expect their information to be used for and offer them other settings to protect their information by default.

And lastly, when your information-bearing media reaches end-of-life — whether hard drives, portable IT storage, or even paper — securely destroy it to prevent leaks and data breaches down the road.

Cybersecurity Awareness Month

September 29, 2022 at 7:27 pm by Amanda Canale

In 2004, the U.S. President and Congress declared Cybersecurity Awareness Month to be held every October. This would heavily encourage, educate, and assist citizens in staying safe online and teach them how to protect their information. Every year, the NCSA creates an engaging and informative campaign in order to raise awareness about cybersecurity and this year’s theme is “See Yourself in Cyber.”

Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

While data privacy and data security are not interchangeable, they are in fact a packaged deal. Implement and enforce best practices such as creating long and intricate passwords and utilizing multi-factor authentication when possible. What is multi-factor authentication? It’s just adding one more small step of the login process. 

First step: log in as usual. 

Second step: complete a second task to confirm your identity. (Think of it as bringing your license and a recent utility bill to confirm your identity at the bank.)  

The second step in the multi-factor authentication process is usually providing a special PIN code that was texted or emailed to you, or opening an authentication app. This is just an extra layer of security you can use when accessing sensitive information.


Use Strong Passwords

Verizon Data Breach Investigations found in a 2020 study that approximately 81% of all data breaches are caused by hackers easily accessing their sought after accounts. How are they able to easily access them, you ask? Two words: weak passwords. 

When companies, managers, and individuals fail to adhere to password guidelines, do not offer password training to your team and fail to educate themselves, and forgo multi-factor authentication procedures, businesses continue to put their cybersecurity at risk.

If you’re now second guessing your own passwords, good. If you’re not, we’re judging you a bit. (Don’t worry, we won’t leave you stranded.) Weak passwords are any sort of phrase or term that is common, short, and/or predictable such as the owner’s name, birthday, or the literal word, “password.” Instead, experiment with a longer password made up of a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols to help keep your password and data safe. Essentially, the more complex the password, the harder it is for cybercriminals to hack your information.


Recognize and Report Phishing

We’re all humans and we all make mistakes. It’s inevitable! Unfortunately, mistakes have consequences. According to a 2019 study, more than 80% of reported data security incidents were caused by phishing attacks. When you interact with a suspicious email link, an attachment, and even senders, your risk of falling victim of a phishing scam rises every time. In today’s modern digital age, hackers have become upped the creativity when it comes to these sneaky scams. If an email or email address looks a bit off to you, it’s always best to either delete or send to your IT department to investigate.

Update Your Software

Regardless of the industry you’re in or kind of organization, having up-to-date, proper cybersecurity protocols and methods in place (in addition to proper in-house end-of-life data destruction!) should always be a priority. It is far too easy for hackers to access and steal sensitive data when your cybersecurity software is not up to date. Check with your business’s IT department or do your own research to make sure you are not ignoring any updates or downloading unauthorized software. It’s also important to note that one should never disable their software’s security features, especially if it is on a work-issued computer or laptop. Your online shopping can wait until you are in the safety of your own protected network and home.

To find out more about Cybersecurity Awareness Month, visit their website here.

Top 4 Ways to Outsmart a Phishing Scam

March 21, 2022 at 6:37 pm by Amanda Canale

Do you have what it takes to outsmart a phishing scam? Let’s find out!

First, a bit about phishing: for those that may not be familiar with phishing, phishing is a phrase used to describe a cyberattack method via email. An email is sent to an individual with the intention of hacking into the recipients’ email, computer, or network. 

Typically, the phishing email will ask the recipient to perform some form of task, whether it is to open an attachment, click on a link, send gift card codes, or send along sensitive information. These links and attachments will be malware-infected and allow the hackers to gain access to your computer, network, and more, and can have detrimental consequences. 

It is important to note that phishing is not a new cyberattack tactic.  Phishing has been one of the most common attack methods and has only become increasingly more complex the further we get into the Digital Age. That said, upgrading your cybersecurity software and educating your staff how to spot and report phishing emails are just two ways to better protect you and your organization’s data. And speaking of educating your staff, read on to learn the top four ways you and your team can spot a phishing email. 

SOX data destruction

Red Flag #1: An Urgent Request for Login Information, Sensitive Information, or Money

Today, it is increasingly easy to get in touch with one another; there’s the telephone, text message, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams chat, Zoom call, calendar invite, and more. It’s safe to say that if your supervisor (or any member of upper management) needs to speak with you on an urgent matter, they’re going to find a way to contact you directly. If an email allegedly coming from your boss or CEO is threatening negative consequences, or even termination, if you do not complete their task, it’s probably a phish. This is a type of scare tactic used to rush the recipient into getting their request completed as soon as possible.

In addition (and it should be common sense), if your boss needs you to send her login information or sensitive information, take a moment and ask yourself, “if this person were really your boss, wouldn’t she have her own access to that information and logins, especially if she is in upper management?” We’re not saying you should ignore every request for information from upper management, but if the request seems a little fishy (pun intended), take a moment to give the sender a quick call or follow up with them in a separate email (using the email address you know belongs to them) to confirm their request.

The same should go for any request for money or gift card activation codes. A colleague, regardless of title and status, should not be requesting monetary items from you via work emails. This is usually a clear sign of a phish and like we suggested above, take a moment to follow up with that person in real time to confirm their request. 

Red Flag #2: Misspelled Name and/or Email Address (When Impersonating Someone You Know)

Now, these attempts don’t come from just any John Doe; hackers do their research to make sure the “sender” looks like it is quite literally coming from your supervisor, company president, client, or…pretty much anyone you know based on social platforms and public company directories.

That being said, it’s now time to break out your magnifying glass and bifocals because we’re moving on to proofreading the urgent request with a fine-tooth comb. Some phishers are lazy so it may be fairly easy to spot a phish simply by doing an in-depth evaluation at the spelling of the sender’s email address (and even the spelling of anyone’s names that are mentioned). 

Since it is not possible for two email accounts to exist under the same domain, hackers have to get creative with the spelling of email addresses when impersonating someone. A quick scan may miss the typos and misspellings so it’s best to take the extra few seconds to make sure the sender is using the correct domain and spelling of their name. Also be on the lookout for the number 1 replacing an  L or an I and other such crafty substitutions.


Red Flag #3: Bad Grammar and Overall Spelling Mistakes

Most of the time, phishing scams do not come from a particular person but rather a bot or a spell-check tool that doesn’t always translate well. Be on the lookout for major spelling and/or grammar mistakes, and this red flag will be an easy one to spot.

Red Flag #4: Illegitimate Links

Whatever you do, do not click the blue link! 

One tricky way phishers hook their victims is by using illegitimate links. One can avoid activating any malware-infested links by simply hovering their cursor over the link for a second or two to see a preview of the URL. If the preview is anything different than what the link says it’s supposed to be, then report it to your IT manager for a more in-depth evaluation.

To summarize, sometimes all it takes is a few extra seconds to carefully read over requests (and maybe a “better to be safe than sorry” forward to your IT department) to spot a phish. As a final note, we want to stress that it takes more than a simple spellcheck to keep you and your organization’s information secure. Upgrade your security software, implement two-step verification logins, train your employees, and collaborate with your IT department to find other security methods you can take.