When you ‘delete’ files from your hard drive, they don’t actually get deleted. The information actually remains in the drive and can be retrieved anytime with a data retrieval tool. The same goes for deleted emails, messages and records of your online activities. You might think that reformatting or overwriting your hard drive is enough to get rid of all the data in there, but you’re totally wrong. Someone determined enough and equipped with the right tools and techniques can easily access all those supposedly deleted data on your drive.
You’ve probably heard stories of massive data being retrieved from old laptops or hard drives despite being disposed of several years ago, or some companies buying off surplus laptops or old photocopiers in the hopes of finding company secrets, personal information, or other data they use. These stories are true, and they are scary. They make you want to think of past hard drives or computers you’ve disposed of and wonder if they were ever compromised.
Lesson learned: Securely disposing data on hard drives and other storage media is important in ensuring that your old data is not stolen.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to dispose of unwanted backup media and storage devices—the secure way.
How to Dispose Hard Drives and Storage Media Securely
When is a hard drive destroyed enough to avoid data recovery? There is no exact answer because it all depends on the type of your storage device and the data removal tool that you employed. Let’s look at some of the ways of securely disposing data on hard drives and other storage media.
Method 1: Overwriting
This method is usually the initial part of the data removal process because most of the time, overwriting the drive is not enough to totally render your data unusable. For this method, disk-wiping software is usually used to replace the stored data on your drive with a pattern of gibberish characters. There are many disk-wiping tools in the market, but the key here is finding software that is compatible with the drive you are going to overwrite.
The overwriting process should be carried out by an expert who understands the process because not just anyone knows how to overwrite a drive. As mentioned earlier, it is usually the first step because one overwriting session is not enough. This method is often carried out before degaussing or physically destroying the drive.
Method 2: Degaussing
Degaussing is a popular method that entails the elimination of a magnetic field, and there are two major ways of doing it. The first method requires passing the hard drive through the magnetic fields created by powerful, fixed and rare-earth magnets. This method permanently erases the data from the drive. The second method, on the other hand, utilizes a strong electromechanical pulse to instantaneously generate a powerful magnetic field. This magnetic field will then permanently erase the information from the drive in an enclosed chamber.
Note, however, that hard drives vary in terms of format, magnetic density and the method used to store data. Hence, it is crucial to ensure that the degaussing device has strong enough magnetic power to overcome the magnetic field of the drive. Otherwise, the data will not be completely erased. So when you buy a degausser, check first if it is strong enough to erase your drive. And, don’t forget to follow instructions.
Method 3: Crushing
The best way to make sure that your drive won’t be accessed by other people is to totally wreck it physically, and crushing is one of the effective ways to do it. The drive is destroyed by subjecting it to extreme pressure. This method is good when you need to get rid of a couple of drives. You can do it the barbaric way by crushing it with a hammer or any other tool, or you can use an inexpensive conical steel punch.
Crushing your drive, however, does not mean that the data has been destroyed. What you have destroyed is the physical storage, which will make the info on that drive inaccessible. If you want complete peace of mind, have the drive overwritten or degaussed first before crushing. Then you will be sure that both the data and the drive itself are destroyed.
Method 4: Shredding
This is another method of destroying the drive physically. The process is very similar to shredding paper, but for this, you’re going to have to use a more powerful and robust shredder machine that’s capable of shredding hard drives of different types and sizes.
The content of your drive is not destroyed when you shred it. It’s still there, just like how it is with crushing. You’re only destroying the physical part, not the content itself. But since the drives are shredded into randomly sized strips, retrieving information from them will be extremely difficult.
Method 5: Disintegration
This method is probably the most extreme way of physically destroying hard drives. If shredding turns your drive into strips of metal scraps, disintegration takes it to another level because the end particles are way smaller and more damaged. These very small particles are unrecognizable and impossible to reconstruct.
So technically, there are two ways to destroy a hard drive–by destroying the content and by destroying the physical drive itself. The most effective way of securely disposing data on hard drives and other storage media is a combination of these two. Destroying the storage device and the data inside it will guarantee that whatever information that’s left in the drive will never be accessed by other people.
Here’s a tip: If you want to completely get rid of files, not the whole content of the drive itself, you can use an app such as Outbyte PC Repair that scans and delete junk files on your computer, improving the overall performance of your device.