How to Properly Destroy a Hard Drive

Man with hammerWith all the talk about preservation and document retention, many people overlook the equally important issue of “destruction.” It is imperative that you devise a consistent and workable retention policy for e-docs, e-records, and e-info so that you are keeping only what you need to keep. But beyond that, you must also ensure that unnecessary data is absolutely destroyed.

Data destruction sounds like it should be an easy process. After all, you could simply hit the delete button or re-format the hard drive. Of course, it’s not that easy.

One of the best articles to address this issue is a 2003 piece by Simson Garfinkel entitled “Remembrance of Data Passed: A Study of Disk Sanitization Practices.” Simson acquired 158 used hard drives mainly from eBay and analyzed them to see if they had recoverable information. Even though the majority of the drives were “freshly formatted,” the exercise revealed a plethora of coporate, private, and pornographic material.

Hard driveSimson’s study also looked at the effectiveness of sanitization and erasing programs. Another method of erasing a hard drive is degaussing which uses strong magnetic fields to deconstruct the storage of data on hard drives and other magnetic media.

All of these methods of data destruction have shortcomings as outlined in an article by Dan Bayha, Vice President of Back Thru The Future Computer Recycling, Inc. (otherwise known as “BTTF”).

I was fortunate to meet Melanie Haga, president of BTTF, in August at the ILTA Annual Conference. I was impressed with BTTF’s unique services and especially their commitment to recycling. I picture BTTF as a giant funnel with humongous steel teeth at the bottom. Into the top go old hard drives, backup tapes, USB memory keys, CDs, DVDs, PDAs, and cell phones and out comes itty-bitty bits and pieces at the bottom.

Proper data destruction isn’t just about mangled electronic media. BTTF has partnered with Dunbar armored transport to make sure your condemned media is secure throughout the entire destruction process.

Leaf in handThe mangled scraps get reincarnated into a variety of products because BTTF recycles all of the metals and various substances found in the electronics.

I’m not the only one impressed with this company. American Lawyer magazine ran a great story entitled “Appetite for Destruction” and the New Jersey Law Journal ran a piece entitled “Shred It or Dread It.” Sharon Nelson over on her Ride the Lightning blog mentioned them as the place to go when “you really, really, really want to be sure that data is gone.”

I agree with Sharon that BTTF may be one of the best ways to be absolutely sure you’ve destroyed data because otherwise you could be taking a chance that some data will be left behind.