Guide to Shredding Part 2 – How do I destroy a hard drive?

How do I wipe a hard drive? How do I destroy a hard drive?

This is a really important question, and a crucial step for any organisation wanting to ensure the security of its data.

The terms delete, wipe, erase, shred, destroy and so forth are often used interchangeably, but this is a mistake when it comes to a computer hard-drive.  And the consequences of getting it wrong can be costly.

Every few years a story makes the news where computers that have been sent for secure destruction or donated to charity end up being sold off and shipped to other parts of the world, where the data is taken from the drives and used in fraud.

This is possible because when you ‘delete’ a file on a computer, send it to ‘trash’ etc, is does not remove the data.  What happens when you click ‘save’ is that the part of the drive used to create the file is locked, so you can’t write over it.  When you click ‘delete’, it removes the lock making that part of the drive available to be written over again in the future.  But the data is still there, and can easily be recovered with the right (inexpensive) software.

So what are the options for safely ensuring data security at the end of the life of a piece of IT equipment?

  1. Use a data-destruction software program.  There are plenty of free ones out there, the most popular is DBAN.  These work by deleting data, over-writing it with random data, and then deleting that.  This should be enough to completely erase data, although not all experts agree.  Also, it can be quite a time-consuming process and does require a fairly high level of computer-savvy, e.g. you’ll need to create your own bootable media on a CD or flash drive, and different processes are needed depending upon whether you have a traditional SATA drive or a solid-state SSD.
  2. Physically destroy the disk.  This is the only way to absolutely ensure the data is destroyed. Straightforward for a SDD (think large hammer) and a little more complicated for a SATA drive (the hammer has destroyed the drive, but is the data on the platter inside still readable if removed?)
  3. Leave it to the experts.  Choose a specialist secure data destruction company with the right accreditations (ISO:9001 with EN15713).  They will ensure that the drive is physically destroyed, provide the correct paperwork for secure destruction and waste transfer, giving you a solid audit-trail.  And this should be at a price that will easily outweigh the time you’d need to spend attempting the job yourself.

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