Published On: Fri, Mar 21st, 2014

“Destroyed” Data Might Still Be Recoverable, According To Industry Experts

When it comes to securely destroying data on old hard drives, the computer security industry is awash with information on the best practices of making your old, confidential data unrecoverable. Indeed, many IT experts and computer novices alike know that simply formatting a hard drive is not enough to destroy any information on a drive.

old hard drives

As computer users and owners of systems, we are encouraged to properly destroy of any data on a hard drive before we get rid of an old computer system. After all, we don’t want to be the victims of identity theft or even corporate espionage!

Ways of destroying old data and drives

When it comes to guaranteeing that the data on any old hard drive is unrecoverable, there are a number of popular methods that we can utilise in order to achieve this end result:

  • Wiping individual blocks or sectors on the hard drive by overwriting them with new data;

  • Degaussing a hard drive (in layman’s terms, putting a huge magnet on the drive, ruining the drive’s ability to be read or written to);

  • Sending the drive off to be securely destroyed by a data disposal firm;

  • Stripping down the individual components of a hard drive and incinerating them (not recommended, given that hard drives contain toxic chemicals).

The risk to businesses of not ensuring data is 100% destroyed

Whilst, for the most part, these common ways of destroying data or the drives themselves are pretty effective, IT security experts are warning that sometimes there are cracks in the system that these processes can slip through, leaving you particularly vulnerable to fraud, theft, and in some cases, prosecution.

Under data protection laws in the United Kingdom, an individual or business that holds any computer data is responsible for the effective destruction of that data when it is not needed anymore.

If you send your hard drives off to a company and have them wipe or destroy those drives, you are still responsible if the drives have not been completely obliterated by physical or other means.

Bits of hard drive can still contain recoverable data

I was having a chat with an IT security guru friend the other day about hard drives and data security, and he told me that even if someone had a small piece of the hard drive’s magnetic platters (discs) that were the size of a stamp, one could theoretically obtain between 50GB to 100GB of information from it!

Thinking that he might have been winding me up, I did some research on this and discovered that he was totally correct! So even if you chop up your hard drive into little bits, a determined entity could theoretically piece together what was on your old hard drive – which is a pretty scary thought indeed.

For complete guaranteed data destruction, it seems the accepted practice is to first format the drive as usual, degauss it and then have it shredded, but sadly with the costs involved in such an operation many firms might only opt for just one of those steps.