Best Methods Of Data Destruction On Computer Hard Disk Drives

July 11, 2018

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We are constantly reminded of the importance of recycling. In the ICT industry, recycling of computer equipment can be useful for educational or charitable organizations. It can however be detrimental to the previous owner. Charitable establishments such as Computer Aid International will refuse computers for reuse in various sectors including education, health and other non-profit organizations for the benefit of developing countries. It would appear Computer Aid International 'wipe' each hard disk drive, which is good news as it hopefully provides some certyty data that can not be retrieved.

However, it is doubtful that the 'average' user realizes the risks involved by selling their old computer on websites such as eBay. They may delete all their files, re-install the operating system (OS) and possibly format their drive, yet the data will probably reside on the disk, typically in unallocated space. Data fragments may be present that could have been used maliciously in the hands of a criminal; indeed data from any source ie any electronic device could be used maliciously. Discarding computer equipment without due care could lead to irreparable, financial, political and personal damage to the owner or organization.

A recent study conducted by Glamorgan University (source: Time Online website) revealed more than 50% of the 111 hard drives purchased contained personal and confidential information. Over 87% of those drives were bought from eBay. This, I feel, raises an international concern. The fundamental concept of eBay and other online auctioneer sites is bringing sellers and individuals together to trade online, creating a world wide market place. Whilst this is beneficial for the legitimate user, we do however risk handing over our personal data to terrorists, corrupt organizations and pedophiles, not to mention the risk of being blackmailed or threatened.

Therefore, the question is – what is the best method of wiping data from our hard drives and protecting ourselves against these threats? With due consideration to economic, data confidentiality and environmental factors I shall discuss the various options available to the public and private sectors.

What are the software options?

Typically, you could choose to either physically destroy the hardware or use either software or hardware to delete the data. There are many software products offering data destruction and typically software vendors 'guarantee' to destroy your data. Yet, is this enough? This approach relies on the user correctly installing the software and carrying out the correct procedure. In most instances a computer will only have one hard disk; yet to execute such a program (and to get the desired '100%' destruction result) typically requires an operating system to be present. In other words, you need another hard drive to run the software so that data can be deleted off the unwanted drive. Alternatives may include bootable programs such as DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke) that claims to "delete the contents of any hard disk it detects". Other software options include: AccessData – WipeDrive, Acronis – Drive Cleanser, CyberScrub – CyberCide and VCOM – SecureErase. These represent just a small hand of the applications available.

The software approach may incur costs; however some applications are probably free on the internet. The disadvantage I feel for a software based approach is the time consumption. Generally speaking 'shredders' will write data onto each of the drive's sectors. The type of data depends on the application; however, this may include characters or numerals. The process, assuming numerals, is known as 'binary flipping'. Basically a binary number, for example 11110000 is written to each sector then the 'flip side', or compliment as it is known, is written. In this instance this would be 00001111.

According to research, the United States Department of Defense considers this approach, with adequate executions and particular algorithms used, to be acceptable in destroying non critical data. However, they suggest executions up to 32 times to class a disk 'sanitised'. We therefore must consider the complications and factors of such extremes. To sanitise a drive 32 times will take copious amounts of time, therefore wasting electricity, time and obviously human and computer resources. This process could take days if not weeks if there were hundreds of disks.

What are the hardware options?

The DiskMaster is an excellent example of how data can be destroyed using a hardware approach. It is fast, efficient and you can set a predefined pattern that should be written to the disk. The DiskMaster is able to wipe drives to Department of Defense standards.

However, again with this approach much time is required to wipe a drive. The concept of a hard disk drive has evolved since the 1950's where data from 5MB (Mega Byte) could be stored. Now we are in an era where 750GB (Giga Bytes) can be stored on one single disk. This inevitably means to destroy a disk, using either software or hardware based approaches will increase in time, cost and consequentially your patience.

Are there any other options?

I believe that physical destruction is the quickest and simplest approach. By removing the top plate of a hard disk drive, you limit the chances of recovering the data due to dust and other contaminants affecting the drives platters (where your data is stored). Physically scoring lines or drilling holes into the platter will hopefully destroy the data beyond any reasonable doubt.

The concept of shredding paper to deter crimes using printed material such as bank statements or bills for identity theft and forgery has now been taken to the next level. Available now is an industrial tape and hard disk shredder. If you search within Google "GSA Industrial Tape and Hard Drive Destroyer 380/500" you will witness the future when it comes to data destruction.

This powerful machine, while not commercially viable for the home user, would suit any large company where data destruction was critical to their intellectual electronic property. Using this machine would render data retrieval practically impossible. I can not imagine a point in the future where we would be able to reconstruct the data from shredded material.

Obviously this method would mean a user could not resell their hard drive. However as the cost of hard disk drives decrease year in year out, is the cost of another hard drive really an issue?

To summarize, the benefit using the software or hardware approach would be: reusability and the chance to recoup some money. The disadvantages would include the 'risk' involved by relying on software or hardware to completely destroy your data. Another disadvantage would be the time consumption and costs involved, including electricity and human resources.

The main advantage of using a hard disk shredder is that complete 100% destruction can be witnessed. The destruction can take as little as 30 seconds. The main disadvantage is that such machines are currently not widely available. As the disks can not be reused it is not an environmentally friendly approach. The last disadvantage is that the costs involved outweigh those of a software approach.

My conclusion to this article would be if you are unfortunately worried about the data on magnetic media falling into the wrong hands, then look at the options to physically destroy that media.

22 Comments

  • Habiband patia July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    I'm from Indonesia … let's help each other to subscribe

  • Habiband patia July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    dimana kita bisa mendapatkan bootablenya..???

  • Bill Woo July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    I hate, hate, hate HATE Acronis with their simply unbelievably USELESS interfaces. Count me among those that were ripped off by these fools.

  • Suresh Kanna July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Error while restoring……my C: windows system partition gone…..i wonder why….pls help

  • Ken Chau July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Finally my os is restored with acronis 2015, truly thanks for this video explanation.

  • Ken Chau July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Thank for your instruction of Acronis restore. Otherwise I never know the restore option is hidden in disc unless one boot up the original disc right at the beginning. My os is win 8 and it screws up. I pressed the restore function in windows 8 and everything goes wrong. All programs disappear and the restore just stops at 98% and will not go further!

  • James 100 July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Great video Neil. You do not mention what to do with the recovery cd? I assume once the software boots up from new windows install you can remove from drive? Should you remove before software boots up after recovery?

  • X PH July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    you have a different ''Destination of DIsk 1'', mine has asking me in three different location and its giving me errors. 🙁 but anyway nice video and very good explanation. hope you can share your tutorial on how to saves games folder on different location instead of C Drive. Many thanks!

  • alasky86 July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Cheers dude. Very helpful

  • de5letras July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Acronis True Image 2015 and 2016 are a shit. When you open the program from Windows you dont search backups in another locations
    I unistalled 2016 version and resinstalled 2014 version.

  • Matthew Miller July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Just wanted to thank you for the wonderful guide here…I'm an old Norton Ghost user and have been looking for an alternative as Windows 10 comes out. Your video has done a better job answering questions I had than any of the other documentation I have seen.

  • StealthParrot July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Great video, very helpful … thanks!

  • Eb Emerson July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks for video.

  • Aniket Borhade July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Great tool, I'm gonna try it now… 🙂

  • Matt Castle II July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    It's actually done kind of old school procedure for programming…let's be frank,Is that the CLONING COMPUTER PROGRAMMING?….It's also my masterpiece! I can cloned a thousand type and kind of your computers using only one prototype RAM…Count on me!

  • Alin Grigore July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Like your video. It was really helpful.

  • Nezello July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Does this work the same way for windows 8.1? I have 1 hard drive and multiple destination drives (partitions) to choose from.

  • slicker55 July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    BRILLIANT tutorial…
    I was holding my breath for you at 13:15 :()
    Just about to order 2015 copy to replace an older version I purchased a few years ago. I have never used Acronis to restore a system but this tutorial has raised my confidence to do so.
    Many thanks – your time and effort in preparing this presentation is very much appreciated.

  • Stiwar Garrido July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    download acronis boot?

  • fprossesor July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    nice video dude, thanx..

  • Joey July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Thanks for your time… very helpful.

  • Demon Gaming July 11, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    great great info

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