How to keep digital data secure even after disposing-off of data drive

Have to ever thought of “deleting” all personal (and even non personal) data, before retiring your old PC / Laptop or before flinging old and low capacity hard disk/flash drive or even a mobile memory card? The answer is probably yes for most of you and including me as well. The reason behind this is that we do not want someone else to access and our personal photographs, records and other information without ours awareness and consent. With the advancement of communication modes, and remote and virtualized work environment in today’s world this, the fear of identity theft is increasing growing.

The loss can be even in millions when it comes to theft of data or statistics of corporate by their counterparts. And this is the reason that just do not rely on “Shift+Del” for their discarded IT infrastructure. This is because the story does not end here. And the data is still available to be used for who would apply some suitable technique to reuse the data. They invest heavily in effective safeguarding of their trade secrets, even after their discarding their IT Infrastructure, so that any prospective confidential data may not be privy to some alien. And In order to achieve these goals the experts have been able to find some interesting measures.

The shredding of a hard disk makes it bits and pieces of small metals and chip board.
The shredding of a hard disk makes it bits and pieces of small metals and chip board. | Source

I am not sure that you would, in your personal capacity would require any of it to use. As I think (correct me if I am wrong) that for any personal computer a complete format of disk would be enough. However it is not bad to be aware of what is going around in world. And here I have some interesting techniques to share with you for Data destruction to counter the effects of dataremanence.

1. Shredding

Yes! Just like paper shredder which you have commonly seen in offices, there are machines which literally shred a hard drive and tore it into pieces. a look at video just below to see how it happens. The data medium is being completely destroyed. And for someone to come and construct one hard disk to get some data (especially from the debris of shredded disks, has extremely very low probability and is almost impossible. Some companies buy their own mega shredder but that happens to be very costly, as then you have to do waste management as per implacable directives. So normally companies use shredding services and even some companies offer to do their task at your place so that you do not have worry about “what happen during transportation of hard disks in the way to the company’s place. Besides the fact that this is fun to watch, this method is un beatable.

2. Degaussing

Degaussing, as described in dictionary “the process of removing magnetization”, is another variously used technique for data destruction. Hard drives can be imagined as pizza with with pieces of meat and chicken as data pieces and the cheese as medium which hold and joins the pieces of data. So if the magnetic cheese is removed, a breakdown of the underlying bits and bytes can be created and jumble them in a way that's fairly tough to reorder . If you are really serious about your data’s security then you would more likely prefer to use a good enough deguasser, which can even able to erase low-level formatting as well. Low level formatting is the thing due to which it acts like a hard disk. And even more powerful degaussers will also not only cause a drives’ servo motors inoperable but also damage the spindle motor of the drive.

Deguassing is faster and cheaper than shredding and just have look on the video to see yourself the process of degaussing.

3. Smelting

While you would have done too much so far but still the most devoted people may try to find a way to impede your data destruction endeavours. And even if you physically destroy the hard drive or wipe its magnetic field, there are still reasonable grounds available to be worried about the breach of confidential data. Because, even after applying all the destruction methods, over writing the meaningless data multiple times and even removing removing magnatic strip who knows that in near future some technology whold have developed to counter all these steps.

The ultimate solution to all this, is that to change the physical state of hard disk from solid to liquid. Although this an extreme but may be required for some kind of data.

The hard disk is composed of different metals and each having its own physical properties . And there is temperature limit after which each metal and substance loses its magnetic behavious. This is Curie temperature or simply curiepoint. Some of substances used for hard disk has following curie points (as described in Wikipedia)

(click column header to sort results)
Curie point ( C )  
Curie point ( oC )  
Iron (Fe)
Cobalt (Co)
Nickel (Ni)
Iron Oxide (Fe2O3)

So if you place the hard disk in maximum heat required it will definitely be useless after this treatment.

4. Data overwrite

If you are in touch with computer industry (and specially in IT) for a long time you would be aware of the fact that deleting a file from disk does not means the removal of file from disk. The OS simply hides the file from your view. And recovering such a file is just a trifling task for anyone.

But if you over writes data on your hard disk, doing it multiple times it will disturb the initial data pattern to an extent that it would be hard to recover. Data Over write is process which even meets some of Australia, UK & US’s Department of Defence guidelines and recommendations for data safety. It simply means that writing meaningless data on all the hard drive’s sectors and then repeating this process.

This can be compared with a white paper on which your bank account details are written with a lead pencil. Now if you use eraser to rub all the data, still it is not too difficult to recover the data as the even after the erasing pattern of words is visible. Now if you write some imaginary name and its imaginary account details on the same place as initially yours were written. Now erase these also. Now use another imaginary name and details and then erasing it. Repeat the process 3-4 more time. And now it is almost impossible for someone to retrieve the account details written on that piece of paper very first time.

Software like “SDelete”, “Trituradora”, and “Eraser”, can be helpful for achieving these tasks and are freeware as well. However there are priced versions of these type of software is also availablewith more advanced features and support from vendor as well one such program is “East-TecDisposeSecure”

5. Encryption

Encryption can be a data safety measure which would be hard for others to retrieve your personal data. This encryption is same which you use for routinely protect data, however the drawback of this method is that it is not 100% infallible and your efforts to protect data can be sabotaged by anyone who really needs the data. As there are methods like cold boot attack with the help of those, one can easily subvert your efforts.

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