Destroying Data Permanently

By: James Walsh


If you have plans of disposing old data storage media, then you must begin by working out methods of data destruction before discarding the device. Quite a few companies feel that storing old hard disks or other data storage devices are the best method for they ensure data protection. However, IT Managers univocally speak against such an arrangement for stored drives can be illegally accessed. Moreover, when these old devices have to be ultimately disposed off, it costs high. The next available option is using the 'data destruction software.' The software overwrites the given data a number of times. Overwriting is also known as shredding or wiping. Many people try using this method, for it is economical and offers some measure of protection too.

Data Destruction Software

Destroying sensitive data using the software is simple. When you install the software, an icon gets created on your desktop. You can simply drag all the unwanted files and emails and drop it to be shredded. You can even shred the free space on the hard drive for additional security, and customise the software.

Data destruction software fills up the hard disks by either using alternating patterns of 0s and 1s or by inverting the data bitwise. However, you will find overwriting ineffective when specific areas on the disk are inaccessible due to media degradation. File shredders are also not recommended when the data you are hoping to destroy is highly sensitive, for it is possible to retrieve overwritten information using magnetic force microscopy (MFM).

Highly sensitive data is best destroyed by physically damaging the storage media.

Physically Destroying the Data Storage Media

If you are contemplating a physical destruction of the drive, take care to thoroughly damage it. Improper physical destruction leaves data intact. For example, if you are planning to grill holes in the drive to destroy data, a few holes will be totally ineffective. You will have to grill hundreds of holes to cover the entire track.

Another method of physical destruction is immersing your hard drive in a bowlful of acid. You have to be extremely cautious for acid spills cause burn injuries. Pour in a measure of hydrochloric acid in a deep glass bowl. Lower the hard disk in it and soak it for hours. For better results, you can place the bowl in sunlight, but this might eventually cause the acid to bubble over.

Degaussing hard drives is a method to be used, when you lack time. Degausser quickly damage data on the magnetic platters and turns them inoperable.

You can also take your old data storage devices to an industrial blender to get it ground to pieces. Some people suggest detonating the hard drives, but such data destruction methods should not be tried out. They might destroy much more than mere data on the disk.

Hazardous Data Destruction Methods

  • Using strong explosives is not recommended for they are not only hard to find but they might also lead to major accidents.


  • Breaking or grinding the hard disk produces toxic particles. Inhaling them is harmful.


  • Never try melting the hard drive too. It is equally hazardous.


Destroying obsolete hard disks is important. It contains vital personal information like details of bank accounts, credit card numbers, health records, etc. Such information has to be completely erased. The data recovery software is not fully effective in purging the hard disks, for it leaves behind a little bit of information that can be easily retrieved.

Physical drive destruction is the most suitable of all methods, but it is effective only if the right method is opted. For example, merely running over the hard disk with a heavy vehicle will only damage the tyres and not the data contained in the disk.

Data is destroyed only if the drive and the magnetic platters are fully destroyed; but, while physically destroying the drives, you have to be careful as it generates e-waste which is toxic. Shredding, burning or burying them or sending them to landfills contaminates both the air and earth. Opt for a data destruction method that is least harmful.



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