General discussion

How do you destroy hard drive data before recycling?

Jan 10, 2020 3:38PM PST

I have a half dozen old hard drives that have accumulated over the years, the kind that were used in desktop tower computers. I can't access and view the contents easily. I know there's nothing on them I need, but I'm concerned there may be something sensitive on them. How can I destroy them so they can't be accessed if I take them to the recycle center? Thanks in advance.

--Submitted by Steve B.

Discussion is locked

Reply to: How do you destroy hard drive data before recycling?
PLEASE NOTE: Do not post advertisements, offensive materials, profanity, or personal attacks. Please remember to be considerate of other members. If you are new to the CNET Forums, please read our CNET Forums FAQ. All submitted content is subject to our Terms of Use.
Reporting: How do you destroy hard drive data before recycling?
This post has been flagged and will be reviewed by our staff. Thank you for helping us maintain CNET's great community.
Sorry, there was a problem flagging this post. Please try again now or at a later time.
If you believe this post is offensive or violates the CNET Forums' Usage policies, you can report it below (this will not automatically remove the post). Once reported, our moderators will be notified and the post will be reviewed.
- Collapse -
Jan 10, 2020 3:51PM PST

Take a sledgehammer and drill to them. Job done!

- Collapse -
Yes pretty much...
Jan 17, 2020 5:26PM PST

We put them into a storage safe. Once a year we have a BBQ for the security team, and then let them loose with the hammers!
Good team fun.

Btw if they were classed sensitive we have a de-gaussing tool we use when we collect them. We could junk them then but it wouldn't be so much fun.

- Collapse -
I ship
Jan 10, 2020 4:08PM PST

mine to Dafydd Wink

- Collapse -
Use them as external drives
Jan 10, 2020 5:03PM PST

Best Buy and others sell Insignias' external cases that you can slip your old drives in. There is a connect at the bottom of the case and you press down on the drive and it plugs in. It comes with a top cover with two screws and a USB cable that plugs into your new computer. I have three old drives that still work with these cases. The case costs about $25 which is pretty cheap to keep your data.

- Collapse -
Does BB "destroy hard drive data before recycling"
Jan 10, 2020 5:21PM PST

when you purchase this external case ?

- Collapse -
Your response
Jan 10, 2020 5:49PM PST

I purchased the last one about ten months ago.

- Collapse -
They don't
Jan 10, 2020 5:54PM PST

You buy the case and take it home and install the drive yourself. Up to you to decide what to do with the info you have on the drive. Best Buy usually never sees the drive, unless you pay the geek squad to put the drive in it for you. You can tell them whether to erase it before giving it back to you

- Collapse -
How do you destroy had drive data
Jan 17, 2020 5:45PM PST

If Best Buy does it for you, that may be the best way to deal with old drives.

Does anyone know what BB charges to do that?

- Collapse -
Jan 17, 2020 6:22PM PST

While BestBuy like any retailer tries to ensure their staff are honest, however as we all know that is not foolproof, I would never turn in a drive with data on it to any store.

- Collapse -
Read first
Jan 17, 2020 6:41PM PST

Or do you need someone to explain to you the difference between a disk and a case?

- Collapse -
Do not waste a good disc drive
Jan 17, 2020 7:09PM PST

It is very easy to wipe a disc drive so that data can not be retrieved. There are many programs that will do it. Most people use Deriks Boot and Nuke (DBAN), which is a free download. I use Disc Erase Pro. I connect the disc drive as a secondary drive and run the erase program from the primary drive. There is a wipe standard developed by the Military called DoD 5220.22-M for disc drives that contained Secret information. This standard is also used by HIPPA for disc drives that contain medical information. It involves writing 0's and 1's over the drive several times. If you wipe to this level, it is impossible to retrieve any prior information. You can then reuse the disc drive safely. Physically destroying disc drives is just stupid.

- Collapse -
I wish we could avoid that word.
Jan 19, 2020 11:50AM PST

I agree it's a bad idea to use media destruction I want to avoid calling it that word.

If the drive is dead, then we can't avoid destruction. It is far better in many ways to erase working good drives.

1. For some they don't care but re-use is a great thing. I'd collected drives over time that we erase and they sit waiting for re-use. I'm not the only one that does pro-bono work out there so spare parts make this possible.

2. Then we have the environment angle. Most folk get that.

- Collapse -
Prolly doesn't matter
Jan 10, 2020 5:20PM PST

Dafydd's suggestion is certainly the most thorough. Or, just smash the circuit board with a hammer.

But, it's likely not worth worrying about, unless you're someone of note. There are a vast number of used drives, and the vast majority don't have any useful information. It's just not worth anyone's time to go through them. Especially if you damage them. Nobody is going to fix a random damaged drive on the off chance there's something they can use.

- Collapse -
Someone of Note?
Jan 11, 2020 12:03PM PST

That includes anyone who does online banking or has a retirement account that is accessed by online (without two-factor authentication). While most HDD/SDD destruction concerns businesses where you can be in BIG trouble for dumping a drive without proper sanitizing, personally owned computers.. well, people can do what they want but I know that, if I found a drive somewhere, I'd be looking to see what's on it and I'm not even a criminal. If someone stored passwords in their browser for their bank... No need to be "someone of note".

- Collapse -
Found a drive somewhere?
Jan 11, 2020 3:11PM PST

Where is someone likely to find an abandoned hard drive?

Thumb drives in a parking lot, sure. Some have used those to infect computers, when people plug them in out of curiosity. (I don't think Windows automagically autoruns drives, anymore, so that's less common.)

So, the main way to come across an abandoned hard drive is at a recycling center. Where the shear mass of drives makes it impractical to check each drive, or even a random sampling. Sure, that's within the realm of possibility. But, for the majority of people, a comfortably low likelihood.

And, again, smashing the electronics with a hammer. Or, throwing it hard onto the sidewalk. Or, drilling even a single hole, makes it even less likely. Unless they have some reason to think it's worth a great deal of time an effort. IOW, a person/company/organization of note.

- Collapse -
Jan 11, 2020 4:56PM PST

You can find one in almost ANY used computer that you buy at a swap meet, Craig's list, or even refurbished. Don't count on someone wiping the HDD in the computer. If a used PC that I bought had a HDD, I'd look at it. If it was from a compny, I'd look at it a lot harder and I'm not a criminal. Here's an example. At work, I had to send over 800,000 social security numbers to the four main cell network companies for analysis as to what information they could provide on every one of them (yes, legal, but that isn't the point). one company said "just attach the list to an email". Do you think that would be secure? If you knew how the Internet works, the answer would be "no way". But each of the other companies had their own requirements. At the time, one-way encryption was used on the SSNs and then the entire file was encrypted with 4096-bit encryption and a pass phrse of over 154 characters including spaces, special characters, upper case, lower case..... Was it 100%? No. But the question was: was this "over-kill"? Not if those SSNs could be hacked and criminally used.

The point being that we don't know what the OP is asking about. Is it a regular PC that never did online banking? Or is it for a company that has governed data like credit card transactions or medical records? We don't know. So, we don't know the true meaning of what you said in the term, "less likely". If this one HDD had banking information on a few thousand people, it could be worth it to use whatever extraoadinary means to determine what the data is because it could be worth millions of dollars. We just don't know the scope of what we are talking about and where you draw the line in the item; "of note".

- Collapse -
Just look at the losses for Bitcoin.
Jan 11, 2020 5:12PM PST


- Collapse -
Bare drives
Jan 11, 2020 5:15PM PST

From the OP, these drives are gathered over time, not easily accessed. That implies bare drives.

Here's what I do with them:

The first few were on a wall that wasn't behind a desk. Almost everyone who saw them immediately reached out to touch them. It's an odd compulsion.

- Collapse -
Jan 17, 2020 5:39PM PST

Someone could make a LOT of money out of this. I'm sure plenty of people would buy them as wall art. You could even use an inscription machine to inscribe something such as "Congratulations Smith Family!". It would be the PERFECT GIFT for a nerd.

- Collapse -
Wall art
Jan 17, 2020 5:42PM PST

In addition you could turn them into a clock. I saw someone do this with vinyl records and they were selling them for $30 each at a farmers market!!!!

- Collapse -
Geek wall
Jan 17, 2020 6:00PM PST

I call it my geek wall.

My friend took one look and said, "You better not bring a date in here or you'll never get laid."

- Collapse -
Depends ...
Jan 18, 2020 1:31AM PST

... on the type of lady you are courting:

The one type will turn in horror and run.

The next type will ask you if you don't think it is in bad taste to keep the hearts of your exes as trophies.

And the third kind will show more interest in your exhibits than in you. Well, at least in this case you are looking at a soulmate ...

- Collapse -
Stan looks mad
Jan 17, 2020 7:21PM PST

I thought he was usually smiling

- Collapse -
Jan 17, 2020 11:37PM PST

Methinks Stan's expression is "Did that just happen?"

- Collapse -
How do you destroy hard drive data
Jan 17, 2020 5:49PM PST

I would not want you as a neighbour. LOL.

- Collapse -
How do you destroy hard drive data
Jan 17, 2020 5:47PM PST

But you never know....

If someone else's privacy is involved, I would not take a chance.

- Collapse -
Depending on the drive....
Jan 10, 2020 5:23PM PST

Go old school. If you can at least get power to the hard drive and get it's disk spinning, Just hold a powerful magnet (like an old school tape eraser) to it for a moment or two. That should scramble everything on the drive.

New school
It would require purchasing a usb ide/SATA hard drive connector. which would easily let you connect the hard drive to the computer. At that point you could use any of a number of open source drive eraser tools. (DBan, KillDisk, Disk Wipe, Eraser, HDD Low Level Format Tool) Do be careful using software because you can accidentally wipe the wrong drive

- Collapse -
shooting range
Jan 10, 2020 5:39PM PST

I used to take them to a shooting range and put a few holes in them. Can't do that any more, however, as the range doesn't allow shooting at hard targets any more.

- Collapse -
Just do some damage
Jan 10, 2020 5:46PM PST

Hard drives are very sensitive to mechanical damage. You can throw them down on a driveway or sidewalk a few times and the heads will crash into the disks or you can take a screwdriver and pry off a few of the chips on the circuit board.

- Collapse -
Only You Know What is "Sensitive"
Jan 10, 2020 6:19PM PST

It really does matter to many as to what we have on our storage drives. If you run financial data, just having your bank name and acount number and, maybe, user names or, even worse, passwords. So, if you do your banking and are not using 2FA and your BROWSER automartically signs you on to your bank or other accounts, don't just toss the drive.

Dafy is correct, you cn destroy the drive to make it reasonably unreadable even if they glue the platters back together. But, there are other ways to ipe the drive. I would recomment finding software that wipes your drive and comforms to DOD (U.S. Deprtment of Defense) standards. It uses different patterns of writing to the drive and multiple passes. Yes, this takes time so it may be a pain in the you-know-what, but security is inversely proportional to ease-of-use. Besides, you don't need to sit and watch it. Ideally, you want one that does NOT run under an OS like Windows. It should boot from a jump drive or CD.

You can look around the web. Here is one that I found but I've never used this so no idea how good it is:
(That one runs on Windows)
(Sourceforge is a good place to find this kind of software)

Here is one that does a LOT but it may be more than what you are looking for as it creates a "server" to do the wiping and issues certificates of destruction. Maybe you wanted certifiuactes?

Here is one that claims DoD standard support. I haven't used this either:

Note: Not everything you find out there will be free of charge.

And here is one I ACTUALLY used!! It Works and does DoD as well:

(The "link" editting function seems to not work through the "edit" post screen)

Post was last edited on January 10, 2020 6:23 PM PST

CNET Forums

Forum Info