Paper Shredders Security Levels Reference Chart

Beginning in September 2012, a new set of paper shredding security levels were created by the German Institute for Standardization - the DIN 66399 standards. This standard created seven levels of specifications for the destruction of six types of materials.

The "P-x" portion of a security level rating refers to paper-based materials. The "Level x" portion of a security level rating refers to the pre-2012 security level standards, and has been slowly being retired. We continue to use them as a reference for those that may find it helpful.

Check out the table below for the security levels for paper-based shredders.

Paper Shredder Security Levels

Shred View Security Level Cut Type Description
Level 1 / P-1 Strip Cut

The lowest form of paper destruction. P-1 shredders are quick, but not secure.

  • Shred width is no greater than 12 mm (0.5 inch).
  • Shred size is no greater than 2,000 mm2 (3.1 in2).
Level 2 / P-2 Strip Cut

Basically the same as a P-1 shredder, except the strips are smaller. You should not use a strip cut shredder for documents containing personal information.

  • Shred width is no greater than 6 mm (0.24 inch).
  • Shred size is no greater than 800 mm2 (1.24 in2).
Level 3 / P-3 Strip Cut or Cross Cut

Somewhat of a middle ground between strip cut and cross cut. If you're considering a P-3 shredder, we recommend that you go to P-4.

  • Shred width is no greater than 2 mm (0.08 inch).
  • Shred size is no greater than 320 mm2 (0.5 in2).
Level 3 / P-4 Cross Cut

These are the most popular size for the vast majority of businesses looking for a secure shredder. P-4 satisfies the minimum requirements for HIPAA & FACTA. Reconstruction of paper shred at P-4 is extremely difficult.

  • Shred width is no greater than 6 mm (0.24 inch).
  • Shred size is no greater than 160 mm2 (0.25 in2).
Level 4 / P-5 Micro Cut

These shredders are ideal for sensitive, but not classified, information. Those who are particularly sensitive to protection of information sometimes choose a P-5 shredder, although there is a tradeoff between shred speed & particle size.

  • Shred width is no greater than 2 mm (0.08 inch).
  • Shred size is no greater than 30 mm2 (0.05 in2).
Level 5 / P-6 Micro Cut

This shred size is not considered by most businesses. If you have information that's sensitive enough to consider P-6, you should move to P-7 (High Security).

  • Shred width is no greater than 1 mm (0.04 inch).
  • Shred size is no greater than 10 mm2 (0.02 in2).
Level 6 / P-7 Micro Cut /
High Security

These shredders are the most advanced, and satisfy NSA requirements for the destruction of top secret information. It is essentially impossible to reconstruct data that has been shredded to a P-7 security level.

  • Shred width is no greater than 1 mm (0.04 inch).
  • Shred size is no greater than 5 mm2 (0.01 in2).

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do American data destruction companies use German standards?

Germany holds the market on office duty shredders. Most of the office duty shredders sold in the United States are manufactured in, and imported from, Germany. Naturally, the German government would have an incentive to create its own high quality standards standards for data destruction. In addition, unlike the U.S. government standards, the German standards are neatly contained in one, well-organized document (DIN 66399) that echoes what the international community generally thinks data destruction standards should be - not only for paper, but for five other types of media.

What is the significance of the "P" prefix?

The "P" stands for paper-based products.The DIN standard neatly attaches a letter to each of the seven security levels in order to distinguish the different destruction standards for each type of data carrier (paper, film, CDs, etc.).

  • P prefix - Paper-based products
  • O prefix - Optical media (i.e. CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs)
  • E prefix - Electronic data media (i.e. solid state drives, memory sticks, credit cards, mobile phones)
  • H prefix - Hard drive discs (from computers)
  • F prefix - Film-based products (i.e. micro-film, microfiche, and slides)
  • T prefix - Magnetic data media (floppy discs, magnetic tapes, cassette tapes, ID cards)

Why doesn't everyone just pick a Level 6/P-7 paper shredder?

It's a trade-off. The smaller the shred, the slower the machine. Also, generally, less secure paper shredders are more likely to be able to shred additional items, like staples and paperclips, whereas high-security shredders typically cannot shred these items.