Erasing A Dead Hard Drive

Erasing A Dead Hard Drive
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Dear readers. Am I being paranoid? The hard drive in my iMac died a couple of weeks ago. After getting it replaced, I asked for the old drive to be returned to me so that I could ensure that there was no data I couldn’t get from it and to be certain that no one else accessed any of data.

Once I got the dead drive home, I popped it into an enclosure to ensure that it was truly dead. The drive didn’t appear with any of the recovery tools I have handy so I’m reasonably assured that it is an ex-hard drive. So how do I now dispose of it?

I attended a presentation by some data recovery guys a couple of years ago. These guys said that they were able to recover over 90 per cent of the data on a drive that had been erased and over-written several times AND had some holes drilled into it.

My dead drive seems to have a damaged controller but I suspect that my data is sitting on the platters. Not that I think that there’s anything too valuable on the drive but I suppose some enterprising geek could extract the platters or rig up a different controller and get some data.

Reading around, it seems that the advice is to physically destroy the drive using power tools. That sounds like fun.

What do you recommend?


  • Disassemble the drive and be sure to melt all the screws into a small ball of metal.
    Take all the parts of the drive and disperse them around the globe encased in a block of cement and buried 2 metres below sea level.

    Once complete place the metal ball on top of mount Everest and be assured that no one will go to as much trouble as you have to see the data.

    Actually…power tool.

  • As a wise man once said: “Throw that sh*t out the window.”

    Seriously though, smash up the drive into many (many, many) smaller drives, and leave them in a tub (glass) of water for a while. Or keep it under the bed forever, clearly marked “to destroy when the appropriate technology has been invented”.

  • Thermite would do it.

    It may also take out a chunk of whatever is under it, but your data would be gone.

    But seriously, Take the drive apart, take out the platters and cut them as small as possible.

    If there isn’t anything both important and secret on the drive, no one will go to the effort of re-assembling all the pieces just to recover pictures of cats.

  • What SkinHead said.

    Risk assessment definitely comes into this.

    I find one or two good hits with a hammer and you hear the platter shatter. In the one I bothered to pull apart there was only lots of small pieces left. Think half way between confetti and glitter.

  • I just remove the platters from the drives and bin the lot. I usually mix it in with food waste so it goes nice and mould quickly.
    I doubt people are going to go to the effort of recovering data from HDD’s in a household bin.

  • Take off your tinfoil hat and stop being so paranoid. Yeah sure it might be possible for “them” to recover information off your dear hard drive, but why? What have you got on there that’s so important to you that no-one else should know/see? Then think about if it’s worth this imaginary persons effort to actually go about getting it. Getting data off a hard drive that has been dissembled, erased and drilled MAY be possible, but it certainly is not easy and not a task that would be undertaken for a random hard drive found at the dump.

    If you are worried about people stealing you identity, I’m sorry to report it isn’t worth that much. So you should only need to take a couple of precautions to safely dispose of a hard drive. Easiest way would simply be disassembling the hard drive and smashing/destroying the platters. If you’re not mechanically inclined enough for that, go back to school. Otherwise drilling a few holes will stop all but the most determined of military organisations.

  • We dispose of the hard drives that store critical data by removing the platters manually and using pliers to bend/fold/disfigure the disk, making sure every mm of surface area is damaged/unreadable.

    After speaking with a recovery expert we stopped using the 7 pass disk erasing method (military standard) and simply damaged the platter.

  • I can’t attest that it works perfectly every time, and there may be “bits” left over, but I have sufficiently “befuddled” a few HDD’s using a home made electro-magnet. (Just a couple of coils really). To test this you could get a perfectly good hdd that you know has lots of good accessible data on it, and sit it on top of a strong magnet for an hour or two. Then try to read it!

  • Heat it above 622 degrees Celcius. It’s not an option I thought of before this wekkend when I was using an old hard drive magnet to hold something in place whilst I welded it. The magnet dropped to the ground when it got above the Curie temperature and became just another block of rare earth elements.

  • 21 pass DOD standard erase on the drive, then user an industrial hard drive eraser that uses high powered magnets, then smash it to bits,

    That was what we used to do at my old work (we were a computer disposal) for any thing that was deemed as “Top Secret” nothing that secret just paranoid customers.

  • do what I have always done, take a trusty hammer (maybe a nail too), head outside, and let your frustration out. after a few hard hits you will hear the platters have shattered. so generally that means your good to throw it away.

  • I used to work for an asset management company, that managed government computers. HDD’s such as yours couldn’t be wiped by traditional software. So we first purchased a drill press, but HDD’s ate through drill bits quite quickly. We then tried an angle grinder, but its loud and make a hell of a mess. The best option is the trusty sledgehammer, breaks them to a pulp and relieves some frustration at the same time.

  • take it apart and throw the parts in the bin.

    anyone who can recover all the parts once its in the garbage truck, put them back together and recover any data would also have access to the kind of resources to get into the system you are currently using ALOT easier.

  • “These guys said that they were able to recover over 90 per cent of the data on a drive that had been erased and over-written several times AND had some holes drilled into it”

    lol. was it MacGyver?

    Back in the real world – just take the lid off and remove platters. Data is stored across platters and their physical relationship to one another within the chassis is pivotal. So messing with that will get the job done.

    If that makes you too nervous, get stuck into them, it won’t take much – they’re either aluminium or glass.

  • i just talk to the HDD for a few minutes saying the same type of things i post to this website. what i can’t work out whether is the data is deleting itself to avoid me or whether its moving to another location

  • I don’t think it’s being paranoid to want to destroy an old drive. Identity theft is very much on the increase, and they are not just after your credit card numbers. Can they recover old emails? Passwords? Your CV and last job application? Tax or other financial information? Anything that will help them build a profile on you and help them apply for a credit card in your name? People upgrade computers fairly often these days, so the fraudsters will be on the lookout for old hard drives. However, I don’t think you need to reduce the drive to powder. Just open the case and smash the platters. If you want, dispose of half of the waste in your home rubbish, and the other half at work.

  • The USAF method for securing hard drives from planes downed in enemy territory: Really strong magnets. The hard drives are mounted where the pilot can pull them out, but there is a ring of very strong (electro?)magnets around the drive bay, so pulling the drive out erases the data. Simple. Though thermite/sledgehammer/angle grinder is certainly more fun.

  • It’s such a pity that no-one is coming up with a solution that allows the hard drive to be recycled. I mean, I know in this case the drive is dead, but what about one that is in a computer that could be refurbished?

  • Give it to your kids and tell them to look after it. Guaranteed total destruction. Or simply realise the fact that the likelihood of anybody going to the trouble of trying to recover your emails is remote ….. unless there is porn involved. In that cace send me the HD to “destroy”.

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