Path: Computer > Miscellanea > How to Destroy a Hard Disk

How to Destroy a Hard Disk

Let's suppose you have a PC (desktop or laptop, doesn't matter) and you want to get rid of the thing. Or you want to replace this tiny 20gb hard disk with something bigger, for all those MP3 songs and MPEG4 videos. How do you deal with the old drive? (Like all electronics, hard drives are fickle objects: they break when they sense that your backup is not up-to-date and they are indestructible if you want to get to rid of the information stored on them.)

The answer is, as usual, that it depends. First of all, how paranoid are you? Second, how important are the data stored on the drive? Unencrypted credit card numbers, savings account information, tax stuff, everything that can be used for identity theft, or just simply private stuff you'd prefer to keep private… that's exactly what data leechers are looking for.

There are two general methods to make the stuff on a hard disk unreadable: hardware and software.

The software method

This does not mean “DEL *.*” or selecting all files in an Explorer window and pressing Shift-Delete or similar ways of “deleting” files on a disk. It also does not mean “FORMAT C:” or right-clicking a hard drive icon and selecting “Format…” or similarly clever ways of “formatting” a disk. In both cases, any old undelete/unformat utility (or even a half-clever intruder who knows the basics of file system structures) can still recover your “deleted” files or read your freshly “formatted” hard disk.

If you want to make 100% sure that all your files and data are not only deleted but completely overwritten with neutral data (or even complete nonsense like the sentence “George W Was A Very Good President”) you need one or more special utilities to wipe the disk clean. Some people don't trust a single program, so they employ two (or three, for the really paranoid). Among the better known wipe utilities (all freeware, of course) are these four:

Needless to say, these programs can be very dangerous. They can (and, given half a chance, will) wipe clean a hard disk, or at least the most important parts, faster than you can say “Oops, my dear, I just pressed the wrong button.” So be extremely careful and triple-check that you have chosen the right drive and options before pressing that fatal button!

(NOTE: If you just want keep an old, but perfectly good hard disk (perhaps as a backup) and want to make sure that third parties can't read it, you should encrypt them. However, don't do this on a file-by-file basis, rather encrypt the whole drive. There are a few products out there to do this; see, for instance, TrueCrypt (again, this is freeware).)

Drilling down to the hardware level

There are a few tried and tested methods to fubar a hard disk. (Fubar is army slang for “fouled up beyond all repair” (some people prefer another f-word).) All imply some degree of physical force, ie good old brutality. All data, all files are stored somewhere on the rotating platters mounted inside the disks, so that's what we need to take care of. In other words, no amount of brute force directed against the printed circuits or the electronics will get rid of the data on the platters. Nor will a magnet that you might be tempted to wave in front of the disk (though the very same magnet will definitely kill off your other hard disks as long as they haven't yet been properly backed up — this is Murphy's Law and fully to be expected).

So, brute force is the order of the day, alas;-). The simplest and most spectacular method is a sledgehammer: first put the disk into a strong plastic bag, then forcefully apply the hammer until the remaining bits and pieces are smaller than a fingernail… and think of all the countless times Windows crashed on you. For some people, this may actually initiate some sort of healing process! (See this photo if you need more inspiration.)

Another nice method is to drill a good few holes through the actual disk platters. The fun with that is prising open the case and seeing the mirror-like, pristine surfaces of the platters before applying the drill… a very satisfying experience indeed. (But drill carefully (if such a thing is indeed possible) — if you apply too much pressure, the brittle platters will shatter.)

Some people prefer to roast their hard drives over an open flame. This is also a safe method, provided the fire is hot enough and the disk is subjected to it for at least fifteen minutes. However, the electronics and plastics on the drive make for some pretty noxious fumes, so this is perhaps not the best idea in a closed room or while your neighbours have just started their BBQ…

Finally, for the mechanically challenged, there's electricity. Not the puny 5 or 12V such drives normally drink, though. Instead, get yourself a nice little 500A welding machine, apply the two prongs and in no time at all you'll witness some spectacular fireworks (don't forget the goggles). Repeat the process a few times, until the whole lot is one unrecognisable lump of metal, and then sell the remains as modern art.

There is also a rather nice method involving MRI scanners but I doubt the docs and nurses will let you take your hard drive with you for your next scan. Of course, if you're a doctor or a nurse… just go ahead!

(BTW, if you're going to hurt or otherwise injure yourself (or your neighbours/kids/pets/MRI scanners) during these exertions, that's completely up to you.)

Miscellanea or Hackers and Crackers or How to Destroy a Hard Drive!

$updated from: How to Destroy a Hard Disk.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:14:24 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$