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Destroying Data On Computer Storage Devices


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I have recently upgraded to a better computer and my old one is not worth for anything but re-cycling. I have some personal and business data on the hard drive and have been told that even "wiping it clean" electronically will still leave data. Some of this data is not mine and sensitive to the owners. Will I need a sledge hammer to "kill" a hard drive?

Do you also have to physically destroy thumb drives to make sure none of the data can be retrieved?

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Wiping the hard drive electronically to any standard with multiple (3 to 7) passes takes a very long time depending on the size of the drive.

A reasonable approach is one erasure/write pass followed by mechanical destruction of the hard disk platters. I usually wipe the disk and smash the platters to pieces or drill many holes through the platters in situ.

https://snapguide.com/guides/destroy-a-hard-drive/

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Deleting computer files just hides them from the operating system and allows the disk space to be reused. Until it is reused, the data can be recovered. Similarly, reformatting doesn't actually go and remove all of the data.

There are lots of utilities out there that will overwrite unused areas of your harddrive with meaningless 1's and 0's. I use CCleaner by Piriform. It's available for download and there is a free version. You can even set it to overwrite multiple times (up to 35). There are people who claim that computer forensics specialists are able to recover data even if it has been overwritten (now we're talking FBI)

But if you just want to take a hammer to it, that works too.

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I used a 5 pound sledge on my last HD but would like a better solution for my next one.

I was semi serious with my triple delete comment. It would be interesting to know what software they used.

There are literally dozens of free secure delete software programs out there. Most of them will let you pick a number of times you want to overwrite your data.

You should distinguish between "delete" which doesn't remove any data and "overwrite" which physically overwrites the sectors on the disk with 0's and 1's. Also, some methods of securely deleting data leave your hard drive unusable (eg. degaussing).

Food for thought: the problem with using a piece of software for this is you can't really be sure what it's done, if anything. For all you know, it's taken all of your data and sent it off to some hacker. The advantage of physically destroying the drive is you're not relying on some programmer somewhere to have done the job properly.

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Wiping the hard drive electronically to any standard with multiple (3 to 7) passes takes a very long time depending on the size of the drive.

I know that the military standards are to overwrite the data 3 times but I haven't been able to locate any reasonable, credible site that says that data can reasonably be recovered after 1 pass.

This site claims the whole practise of overwriting multiple times is based on an urban legend from some research that was done in the 1990s on old technology drives. Same with this site.

Apparently, the science behind this is that if a bit is changed from, say a 0 to a 1, the voltage is slightly different than if it was originally a 1. However, unless you know how many times a given bit is overwritten, I'm not sure how you could apply this. Also, the method is apparently far from foolproof and any errors in data recovery would multiply. Assuming this works at all, the process of recovering data would be incredibly time consuming and tedious. And if you have, say, a 1 TB hard drive, unless you were able to correctly restore the disk directory, the process of trying to make sense of the data would be mind-numbing. Unless you are worried about a military hacker, I suggest that worrying about 3 or 7 passes is probably overkill.

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.... Unless you are worried about a military hacker, I suggest that worrying about 3 or 7 passes is probably overkill.

Overkill was the intended purpose. Years ago, I had to personally destroy and/or witness the destruction of thousands of classified documents, crypto keys, positive film, audio tapes, digital media, etc., and "good enough" is/was not acceptable. Even more paperwork is created to document erasure and physical destruction. Besides, it is fun !

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I have recently upgraded to a better computer and my old one is not worth for anything but re-cycling. I have some personal and business data on the hard drive and have been told that even "wiping it clean" electronically will still leave data. Some of this data is not mine and sensitive to the owners. Will I need a sledge hammer to "kill" a hard drive?

Do you also have to physically destroy thumb drives to make sure none of the data can be retrieved?

Just leave them out in the rain and throw some rock salt on them. They'll be toast in no time.

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Overkill was the intended purpose. Years ago, I had to personally destroy and/or witness the destruction of thousands of classified documents, crypto keys, positive film, audio tapes, digital media, etc., and "good enough" is/was not acceptable. Even more paperwork is created to document erasure and physical destruction. Besides, it is fun !

And while you were enjoying yourself diverting resources destroying data of probably negligible value, the Chinese were hacking the secrets to the butterball. (luckily, the plane is mostly worthless)

Well done!

Edited by ReeferMadness
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And while you were enjoying yourself diverting resources destroying data of probably negligible value, the Chinese were hacking the secrets to the butterball. (luckily, the plane is mostly worthless)

Actually, data destruction methods were prescribed by specification, the very same ones that Canada copies to this day.

Disk packs for targeting nuclear weapons seemed valuable at the time.

Edited by bush_cheney2004
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Actually, data destruction methods were prescribed by specification, the very same ones that Canada copies to this day.

Disk packs for targeting nuclear weapons seemed valuable at the time.

I'm sure that makes you feel better - but it doesn't make the process any less a waste of time and money.

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I'm sure that makes you feel better - but it doesn't make the process any less a waste of time and money.

No, the waste of time and money would have been a long prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

I can hear it now, "Sir, I am not going to destroy this disk drive because some guy in Canada says it's a waste of time and money".

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No, the waste of time and money would have been a long prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

I can hear it now, "Sir, I am not going to destroy this disk drive because some guy in Canada says it's a waste of time and money".

Good thinking.

Instead, when your grandkids ask what part you had in bankrupting your country, you can use that old military excuse. "I was just following orders".

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