To destroy means “to ruin the structure or the condition of.” Picture an ax-wielding man on a wild rampage smashing guitars. The guitars have been broken up into pieces but are still recognizable.
Destroy also means to “put out of existence.” This meaning is much stronger and absolute form of destruction. In the case of destroying hard drives or more specifically, the data contained on them, people have used shredders, baseball bats, hammers, fire pits, and explosives.
However fun this type of destruction might be to perform, it falls short of its intended purpose, destroying the data on the hard drive. While the media housing is deformed, the data is still on the hard drive platter and most importantly still recoverable. The data has not been put out of existence.
In the case of destroying hard drives or more specifically, the data contained on them, people have used shredders, baseball bats, hammers, fire pits, and explosives. However fun this type of destruction might be to perform, it falls short of its intended purpose, destroying the data on the hard drive. While the media housing is deformed, the data is still on the hard drive platter and most importantly still recoverable. The data has not been put out of existence.
This article is about making sure data no longer exists using practical, effective methods of data destruction, also called “data sanitization”. Learn more about hard drive destruction vs data destruction.
Will data thieves go after my data?
Hard drives and even tiny fragments of hard drives can contain reams of pages of data on them, which can be recovered using downloadable software off the internet or sophisticated recovery tools. If the data on that destroyed drive is suspected to be your personal browsing history and image files, most data thieves won’t have the motivation to retrieve it. However, if the data includes medical records, banking details, or top-secret military information, data thieves and governments are willing to go to extreme measures to retrieve it. If you don’t completely sanitize all data from your decommissioned hard drives, bad consequences can happen including fines, lawsuits, and firings.
Will shredding safeguard my data?
One common method of destroying a hard drive is shredding. Since shredding works for paper, logic assumes that it works for electronic media as well. However, shredding a hard drive is insufficient for today’s technology, as a modern hard drive can store 600,000 pages of data on a 2 millimeter-wide shred particle. That’s a particle smaller than a grain of rice!
Also, because of the cost, size, and energy required to operate a hard drive shredder, this is not a practical in-house destruction solution for most businesses.
Can burning my hard drive destroy my data?
Yes, incineration will destroy a magnetic hard drive, but for incineration to work, the data platters inside the hard drive must reach at least 670 °C. Since most people can’t accommodate a furnace in their office or data center, this also is not a practical solution.
How will degaussing safeguard my data?
Degaussing applies a strong magnetic field to the drive which overcomes its coercivity (resistance to being erased). Since the data is a magnetic field, clearing the magnetic field eliminates the data. Most magnetic hard drives are rated at 5,000 oersted and magnetic tape at 3,000 oersteds. One gauss demagnetizes one oersted. Garner degaussers generate between 10,000 and 20,000 Gauss, easily destroying the data on magnetic media. After degaussing the drive, the data is completely gone and the hard drive can be recycled or disposed of.
Garner degaussers are about the size of a desktop CPU and plug into a standard wall outlet. They are office-quiet, simple to use, and designed for office or data center use.
If you are sanitizing the drive to NSA standards, degaussed drives must then be “physically damaged” by deforming the internal platters “by any means.” Garner offers physical destroyers with 10 tons of crush force which safely and quickly destroy the internal workings of hard drives.
So what’s the takeaway about data destruction vs hard drive destruction?
- Destruction can be fun but be sure you’re destroying the data, not just the media.
- Data can persist on very small parts of a hard drive.
- Degauss before you destroy.