How to properly destroy a hard drive - Tip Tuesday: Episode #006
How to Destroy a Hard Drive
Do you have an inaccessible or otherwise worthless hard drive filled with sensitive data? Do you want to be sure that data never sees the light of day? Once you’ve wiped your hard drive, consider one of these options to further protect your data. These methods will do a pretty good job (but mostly they will just look totally awesome).
Wiping the Data and Removing the Hard Drive
Back up your data.It’s easy to forget about all of those MP3s you ripped in the 90s and beloved family pictures when all you can focus on is destroying the cause of your shame and avoiding federal prison. You will, however, want to make sure to back up all of your important and legal data, however, since the whole point of the resulting exercise is that those things will be... you know... gone.
Wipe the drive.Always wipe your hard drive before beginning destruction. While the more exciting methods of destruction will do a pretty good job of rendering data irretrievable, they can’t be 100 percent guaranteed (especially if you have reason to believe the government is willing to spend several months and millions of dollars to find your dirty, dirty secrets). Wiping your dataandblowing up your drive, however? Yeah, nobody’s getting that back.
- Let’s be realistic for a minute here, though: a serious wipe of your computer will probably do the trick. Only someone with very serious equipment would have any chance at recovering your data and even then, there isn’t very much evidence that it’s really possible.
Open the computer case.Open your computer case and find the hard disk drive. They are located in different spots in each type of case, sometimes located within a metal box. You may have to look up your particular model if you’re having trouble locating the hard disk drive.
Open the hard drive.Open the hard drive casing. This will largely amount to loosening a bunch of screws in different configurations depending on the make and model of your hard drive. Possibly cutting some tape. Be warned that there are often screws hidden underneath labels, so you might have to go poking around.
Remove the magnets.You will need to remove the arm and magnet structure in order to reach the platter underneath (your real goal). There are screws involved. It’s pretty straightforward. Remove the magnets carefully because they are seriously very strong and you can really hurt yourself with them.
- Seriously, you will struggle to get them off a fridge. You can break fingers with these things. And for the love of whatever you pray to,don’t eat themanddon’t let your pets eat them(pets, in this case, includes kids).
Remove the platter.This is the thing that looks like it would make a nice mirror. You’ll probably need to unscrew the circular piece at the center which holds in down. This is the thing that stores (the majority at least) of your data. This is the thing you need to destroy. Sometimes there is more than one platter, so pay attention to that.
Hammering the Hard Drive
Use a hammer.The fastest, most direct method of destroying the platter is with a hammer. Put it on a surface that can take a beating and is easy to clean up, strap on some goggles and safety gloves, and take out your aggression that’s been pent up ever since George Lucas blasphemed all over what was a perfectly good franchise.
- Make sure you’re the only person in the room when you do this; partially so that you don’t hurt anyone by accident with flying bits of glass and metal, and partially so that they don’t become concerned about your sanity levels and have you committed.
- Some platters are made out of metal, some are made out of glass and ceramic. The latter will shatter readily. The former will certainly deform, which will make it pretty unusable, but you can also use some of the more exciting methods below if you aren’t convinced.
Carefully dispose of the remains.Once it’s in pieces, carefully collect them and dispose of them. The parts may be taken anywhere that recycles electronics. Check your local computer/game retailers, department stores, and thrift shops.
Burning the Hard Drive
Hold a trial by fire.While heat alone probably won’t completely destroy data, turning your platters into liquid piles of molten goo is pretty effective. This will be particularly fun if you’re the sort of person that the local fire department knows by name. Whatever method you choose, make sure you’re doing it in an area with some pretty serious ventilation, because a melting hard drive will give off fumes that can possibly kill you.
- Use a standard fire. Be it in a fireplace or hobo barrel (preferably the latter), you may be able to get a normal fire hot enough to liquify your hard drive. Toss it on and leave it because it’s probably going to take a while. Fun level: 3
- Use a blow torch. Put on some protective gear, hold the platters at a distance with some kind of heat resistant tool, and watch it melt. Make sure the floor below can take a beating. Fun level: 5
- Use thermite. For the more adventurous hard drive destroyer, you can seriously overkill the task by filling a large container with sand, placing the platters on the sand, and then lighting a container of thermite over the platters. This is science at it’s best and creates a chemical reaction which produces a lot of heat and a small explosion, so be really careful. Do not use this method indoors. Or near a forest. Or near small children. Or near yourself, really. Fun level: 11
- Use sugar and saltpeter. Mix sugar and saltpeter in a soda can and place it over a hard disk in a bucket of sand. This is basically a small bomb, so bereally, reallycareful about where you set it off and where you’re standing when it goes off. Fun level: 11
Shooting the Hard Drive
Hold a trial by firing squad.Take your hard drive platter to a local firing range or prop it up in another safe location. Makes excellent target practice. Fun level: 7
Magnetizing the Hard Drive
Hold a trial by giant magnet.That thing where running a magnet over a computer to erase it is basically a myth. If you want to destroy your data by magnet, you’re going to need to pull out the big guns.
Buy some serious, big rare earth magnets.These should work well enough to scramble any remaining data after wiping your drive. And, really, who doesn’t want to own a giant, super-powerful magnet? You will find other uses for it. Surely. Fun level (wiping the drive): 4; fun level (finding other uses for the magnets later): 9
- Alternatively, take your hard drive to a local junk or scrap yard...any place you can find with one of those big magnetic cranes for lifting cars and other large scrap. Watch as your drive performs a Cirque du Soleil level of flying-through-the-air as the data is made thoroughly unrecoverable. Fun level: 5. Unreliable though, drives are well shielded against magnetic fields. Physical destruction is best.
Crushing the Hard Drive
This one is easy - find a 5 to 10 ton press and crush the life out of the drive by squishing midway between the spindles (drive and heads).This only takes a few seconds, but the results are great.
Melting the Hard Drive
Hold a trial by acid.Pretend you’re holding a little witch hunt for your hard drive platter as you dunk it into a container of battery acid or similarly strong acid. You should be able to watch it dissolve. Dispose of the acid in an appropriate way (dumping it in your yard is not an appropriate way, just so you know). Fun level: 6
Hold a trial by microwave.Microwaves in and of themselves are not strong enough to destroy data, so don’t think a one second zap will do the trick. Getting the platter hot enough to melt or shatter, however, will render your data unrecoverable.
- Buy or salvage an old microwave, preferably one with a push-button method of opening the door. Hook it up outside with an extension cord and set it for 10 minutes. Get very far away (glass platters can shatter under these conditions and are very dangerous). Open the microwave from a distance, with a broom handle or pull string, and use a very long stick to shatter the disk if it didn’t melt or shatter of it’s own accord. Fun level: 6
Using Hardware Tools on the Hard Drive
Hold a trial by sandblaster.Rent a sandblaster from your local big-box hardware store, take your platter out to your driveway, and blast away that mirror finish. This will remove the layer of material which stores the data on the platter. You get to look super cool holding that blaster, plus you can use any extra time with the sandblaster to clean more than just your old hard drive. Fun level: 5
Hold a trial by saw.Well, okay, don’t use a saw (it won’t work very well). Instead, use an angle cutter, which is similar but sounds less cool. These are easily rented from your local big-box hardware store. Use cheap “C” clamps to hold the platter of your hard drive down to an appropriate surface and cut it straight down the middle. Okay, realistically you’re going to cut it more than once because sparks are going to go flying everywhere and it is going to look like the 4th of July in your garage. Whatever makes you happy. Fun level: 7
- Just make sure you’re doing all of your cutting safely and with proper eye gear. Look up pictures of angler cutter injuries. You’ll wish you could unsee all that.
Hold a trial by drill bit.This is a common utilitarian-but-no-less-amusing way to destroy your hard drive. Take a drill (you’re going to need a pretty strong bit) and put holes in the hard disk platter. You’ll want to drill several holes in a wide variety of spots in order to guarantee that the data cannot be recovered. Beyond that, have fun with it. Make art. These things do make great Christmas tree decorations. Fun level: 4
Shredding the Hard Drive
Hold a trial by industrial shredder.Have you ever seen an industrial shredder? Look it up. Look it up right now. See? Come on. Find a nearby industrial shredder, rent some time with it, and chuck your hard drive in there. Chuck...anything in there really. Maybe not your cat. Fun level: increases exponentially with the number of things you shred.
Using Electrolysis to Dissolve the Hard Drive
Get a plastic container big enough to immerse the hard drive in water.Add a packet of sodium bicarbonate. Donotuse table salt as this will produce toxic chlorine gas!
Find a large pencil.Carefully shave off half the wood leaving the carbon graphite lead intact. This will become your cathode (-) electrode (the electrode must be higher up the galvanic series than aluminium). Also get two thick insulated leads of wire.
Get a car battery charger.Donotuse a car battery as it is too powerful. Tie one wire from hard drive plater to + positive terminal (reduction electrode) and the other wire from the graphite pencil to the negative terminal (addition electrode).
Immerse the hard drive completely in the water.Turn the power on. You should see the water start to bubble and froth, releasing oxygen and hydrogen - it is essential to have an open window nearby!
After a 24 hours, your hard drive platter will have lost its shiny mirrored surface (oxidised).It will be partially dissolved into metal powder and salt water.
QuestionIf I just soak the hard drive in water, will that be enough to destroy it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHonestly no. Real forensic hackers can take the disc and replace the circuits. It will be corroded, but not gone. I'd say blow torch, hammer and a couple of bullet holes. Even after that I'd bury it.Thanks!
QuestionIf I destroy my hard drive, can anyone recover my data?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo, especially if it's destroyed fully. However, if you just wipe a drive, the contents inside won't be magically gone, they wait to be overwritten, but destroying a hard drive will annihilate everything inside and nobody will be able to access it, unless you're running from the government that is.Thanks!
QuestionCan the hard drive be erased by resetting the factor setup?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNo. You need to use a file shredder and a clean format to make the drive clean, usable slate.Thanks!
QuestionIs it possible to damage a hard drive without opening the tower case or taking it out from the cabinet?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. You can damage the tower case, too, but it would take longer.Thanks!
QuestionI have a waste management truck coming here weekly, which crushes and compacts all waste from our cans. Will this destroy a hard drive effectively?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMost likely, but there is still a possibility of it being stolen from your trash bin. You should just scratch the platters of the drive, then send the other parts to an e-waste recycling plant.Thanks!
QuestionWhy does my computer tell me boot manager is missing when I turn it on? What can I do about it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYour Windows boot manager is corrupted and you will have to either fire up Hiren's boot CD or reinstall Windows.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I destroy an SSD?Cole MoynihanCommunity AnswerMethod 9 would be the best choice for an SSD. If you can't do method 9, method 7 also works.Thanks!
QuestionCan "Big Brother" rebuild the hard drive?Community AnswerNo, because destroying the hard drive permanently fragments and corrupts data, it is no longer possible to use it or put it back together.Thanks!
If I put a hard drive in salt water will it be destroyed?
Once I remove the platter from the hard drive, can this just be scratched up and broken with a hammer? Does this piece hold all the data that needs to be destroyed?
Can I destroy it by adding gallium?
Can I use liquid nitrogen to destroy a hard drive?
Do I have to do anything with the rest of the disc holder or is it enough to destroy just the disc?
Before wiping all of the data from your hard drive, make sure you back up any data you want to keep. Then, plug your hard drive in to your computer and electronically delete all of the information. To access your hard drive, open the computer case, find the hard drive casing, which should be labeled, and remove the circular hard drive. You can them destroy your hard drive by hammering it, burning it, melting it, crushing it, or even shooting it! No matter what method of destruction you choose, make sure you do so safely and within the parameters of the law.
- It’s impossible to guarantee that any method for permanently erasing your data is 100% effective. Technology changes so fast and we never really know what’s available to people with unlimited resources and a ridiculous desire to get at pictures of your mee-maw’s 88th birthday party. Just do the best that you can and hope that your last name is not Assange or Snowden.
- You assume full responsibility if you decide to blow things up. Just saying: if you think the Fed is onto you for what’s on your computer, how do you think they’re going to feel when they find explosives instead?
- Wear protective gear when doing all of the above methods. They are intended to physically destroy something and that can just as easily be you. You’ll want eye coverings (if not a full on mask), heavy duty gloves, and anything else that is appropriate for working with these kinds of tools and materials.
- Don’t be silly. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Texting and angle cutters don’t mix. Also, alcohol and angle cutters. You get the idea. Be careful.
- If you feel a driving desire to do any of the above methods without proper safety gear and precautions, please, consult a psychiatrist. We’re worried about you.
- If you're destroying evidence of a crime, you will be committing a crime in itself!
Sources and Citations
- – research source
- – research source
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