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The Challenge of Data Destruction, Part 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the challenge of data destruction. Based on the number of responses to that column we received, the issue is something a lot of you have to deal with.

A couple of readers wrote to suggest that heating the disks to a high temperature might help destroy the magnetic properties of the platters. One reader in particular said that people who work in universities might find this concept to be an interesting exercise for students working in the physics labs.

Two more readers presented what I think is a very economical idea in terms of both time and money. They suggested having the drives crushed in a hydraulic press. One of the readers contracts with a local machine shop to do the work. He stands by while the drives are crushed, and each visit costs less than $100. The other reader said he first wipes disks with a software tool, then takes them to a local automobile scrap yard. A worker at the scrap yard crushes the drives in exchange for beer! The crushed parts could be separated into multiple lots and disposed of at several trash dumps and recycling locations.

Another interesting idea is to use an oxyacetylene cutting torch or arc welder to destroy drives. This sort of approach would certainly destroy data, however it could become expensive in terms of time and money depending on who did the work. And as one reader pointed out, the fumes released from burning drive components could be toxic.

Yet another reader wrote to suggest driving a nail through each drive. I agree that would work, but it's a lot of hammering if there are a few hundred drives to destroy. The same reader also pointed out an error I made in mentioning liquid hydrogen as a way to freeze a drive. The proper chemical is liquid nitrogen. I apologize for that mistake.

A novel solution is to use a shredder. A reader said he contracts with a company that offers an on-site shredding service for documents. As a demonstration of its shredder's ability to shred other materials, the company shredded an old laptop into pieces no bigger than a fingernail! Because the reader already contracts with the shredding company for other shredding needs, having it destroy old disk drives costs the reader nothing extra.

What if you want to recycle your hardware so that it can be used again by someone else? A reader suggested using a computer recycling company such as RetroBox, which charges a fee to collect your old systems and wipe the drives of all data using technology that meets Department of Defense specifications. RetroBox then sells the refurbished systems and returns part of the proceeds to your company. Depending on your policies and needs, this could be a reasonable solution.

Finally, another reader suggested using a data encryption solution that requires a hardware-based key to access the data, such as SecureIDE (at the URL below). If no key is available, then in theory the data can't be accessed. This is a reasonable solution for many businesses, and so are data encryption techniques that use software-based keys. However, someone might be able to recover the data if he or she has enough resources to allocate to the task.

Thanks to all of you who contributed to this list of interesting solutions.

TAGS: Security
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