As long as we’ve been using personal computers to store our sensitive data, we’ve been trying to tackle the problem of what to do with the data after we are done with it. Today, a new breed of data destruction equipment hopes to tackle this challenge. What follows are a few methods for destroying hard drives as well as some data destruction equipment suggestions that can help sanitize and declassify your hard drives safer, easier and more securely.
Degaussing Hard Drives
Degaussing hard drives is a highly effective means of sanitization. In fact, it is so effective that NSA has approved some methods of degaussing for high security data destruction on magnetic media. Degaussers are essentially finely tuned magnets that, upon contact with other magnet media such as hard drives, will destroy the magnetic signature of any stored data. Magnetic degaussers are data destruction equipment that that are measured in oersted. There are many things that determine a degausser’s effectiveness, but in general, the higher the oersted rating, the more powerful the degausser. There are many types of magnetic degaussers that can greatly vary in price
Disintegrating Hard Drives
Disintegrators are types of data destruction equipment that are widely used in the data destruction and recycling industry to destroy many types of materials, including metal. Hard Drive Disintegrators, like the Datastroyer 105 Hard Drive, have been developed to deal with the specific challenges surrounding hard drives. Hard drive disintegrators use knife milling technology to continually cut the hard drive into pieces until they are small enough to fall through the disintegrators’ screen. Although disintegrating hard drives is a bit slower than shredding hard drives, the result is a much finer residue and much higher level of security. Even a small fragment of a hard drive has the potential to contain thousands of pieces of potentially harmful data. Producing a higher level of destruction is probably most important when dealing with data storage devices like hard drives.
Shredding Hard Drives
Shredding hard drives requires a type of shredder specially engineered for handling the thick pieces of metal associated with hard drives. Hard drive shredders use hardened steel cutting shafts with widened gap sets, as well as timed conveyor belts to prevent overfeeding. The shred residue of a hard drive is nowhere near the fine consistence of a paper shredder. Hard drive shredder residue consists of large chunks of metal that, depending on the way it hit the shredding head, varies greatly from drive to drive. For this reason we usually recommend hard drive shredding for customers who are not trying to meet NSA or other government security requirements. Two similar options would be to run the hard drives through for a second pass, or considering a hard drive disintegrator which produces a smaller and more consistent residue.
Puncturing Hard Drives
The most rudimentary way to sanitize information on a hard drive is to physically destroy it. Since many hard drives are built using reinforced aluminum housings and alloy platters, physical destruction isn’t always as easy as it sounds. This is why specialized types of data destruction equipment have been created to take care of some of the heavy lifting. Some common methods of physical destruction are drilling hard drives, crushing hard drives, piercing hard drives, and bending hard drives. Although the platters are not completely destroyed, the bending of their platters disrupts the magnetic trail that holds the information. Although physical destruction in this manner doesn’t protect against all forensic data recovery techniques, it does protect hard drives from most of the common types of digital data theft.
Erasing Hard Drives
Hard drive Erasure is the most common way of trying to sanitize information on a hard drive. That does not mean that it is always the best method. The truth is that simply deleting information on your hard drive doesn’t erase the information at all – it only moves it to another location on the hard drive. This misconception of the how “deleting” truly works is the cause of countless cases of identity theft each year.
When erasing hard drives, we highly recommend the use of Secure Erase, or other overwriting methods. Properly overwriting a hard drive will render information on a hard drive completely irrecoverable, even with the latest in forensic technology. Standard software programs that perform multi-pass overwriting can take hours to complete and can miss information on damaged sectors on the hard drive. We recommend using Secure Erase because it is not dependent on the computer’s BIOS. Secure Erase will overwrite everything on a drive, even the bad sectors. Since Secure Erase is built directly into nearly all hard drives now days, it is many times faster than an external overwriting software. Be sure to check out different data destruction equipment that make implementing secure erase a bit easier than more complex methods used by your IT staff.
Melting Hard Drives
For some security experts, a hard drive isn’t destroyed unless it is completely eradicated. Melting hard drives is usually implemented as the final stage of hard drive destruction. Many metal recycling centers will take in used hard drives as scrap metal and throw it into a molten vat of hot liquid metal. There is no type of data destruction equipment that you can buy that will implement this technique. However, if you’ve ever seen the end of Terminator 1, you know what happens to electronics when they touch molten metal. For high security applications, this step of the declassification process is last because of the extended data exposure risk during hard drive transportation and delivery to unclassified and unsecure locations.