How to Destroy a Hard Drive
Readers frequently search this website for information on how to destroy a hard drive. The destruction of computer hardware and data privacy are a major concern. With recent cyber attacks on Equifax and Yahoo, many online users wonder if it is even possible to protect your own data. They also may wonder if taking precautions to protect personally identifiable data is with the effort. It’s not just a matter of time if you are going to be hacked, but when and how many times each year!
However, regardless of the worrisome and sometimes hopeless statistics on cyber security and hackers, it is still important to do whatever you can to guard your own data. This includes the destruction of hard drives, flash drives, storage devices, and all computer equipment. Computer equipment is a challenge to erase when it comes time for data destruction. There are environmental considerations since the machines can contain contaminants. Another very real question centers around how to REALLY erase the data and preventit from being recovered.
There are a few ways to destroy a hard drive before destroying the device physically, reusing it, selling it or sending it to a recycling center:
- Erasing the data with software
- Erasing data with magnets
- Damaging the hardware in water
- Burning the hard drive (we did it with a blowtorch)
- Exposing the platters to the air for a period of time
- Damaging the hard drive with excessive heat
- Drilling into the hardware and the platters
- Sanding the surfaces of the data platters
- Grinding the surfaces of the data platters
- Pound nails into the platters
There are many ways to destroy a hard drive, but one must be sure the data is gone and gone forever. Simply reformatting a hard drive does not guarantee that the data is gone forever. Reformatting just reassigns the data blocks and marks them as available” to the machine. So, an empty data block is not empty at all, it is merely open to overwriting with new data. Until the new data is written over the “erased
data, anything can be recovered.
Software programs are available to destroy data on hard drives too. Many times, these apps reformat the drive, then overwrote the unwanted data with new, random data until the hard drive is full. Some subpar hard drive wiping apps may only rewrite the file directory on the drive. The file directory contains a catalog of the data stored on the platters. It instructs the machine where each block of data is stored. By destroying the onboard directory, the data is uncategorized and “lost.” However, the reality is, any hacker or someone with some inexpensive recovery software can recover the drive and its data.
How Can I Be Sure My Hard Drive Data is Destroyed?
Water doesn’t do a lot of damage to a hard drive unless the platers are spinning. Even then, a quick dip in a bucket isn’t going to guarantee the data is wiped clean.
The best way to be sure the data is wiped clean off a hard drive is to ensure that the platters are not functioning anymore. That means, they cannot spin. If they cannot spin, then a computer cannot read them. One of the easiest ways to do this is to drive something through the hard drive and platters. Try a drill bit (in several places) or go cheap and pound a few nails though the case and platters. To make sure there is no hope, run strong magnets over the platters to get rid of anything left.
Michelle writes about cyber security as well as how to protect your data online. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers