Whether you’re working for a company that has a legal obligation to destroy customers’ personal information after a certain period of time, or you’re considering selling your old smartphone on eBay and want to make sure no one digs up your selfies, it’s worth knowing how to do the job correctly. And yet, this is often a source of confusion: many consumers and businesses have misconceptions about what secure data destruction is and what is not.
Formatting a disk, for example, will not actually erase it, but will only remove the existing file system and generate a new one, similar to pulling a catalog from the library when you really want to take the books out of the library. What’s more, breaking the hard drives with a hammer is no guarantee – however unlikely – that someone with enough time on their hands will not be able to reassemble the dishes and transcribe the data.
So, how can consumers and businesses achieve peace of mind that their confidential information is not used against them after it has been deleted? In fact, there are some failsafe data destruction methods that are approved by governments and international standardization bodies, and that vary widely in their costs, each with particular advantages and disadvantages. Here are the most important.
The days of cathode ray tubes may be a long way off in the past, but you probably remember what happened when you placed a powerful magnet next to an old television or computer monitor: the electrons shooting towards the back of the screen going out of course and resulting in distorted colors. To avoid this, those devices contained demagnetization coils: components designed to reduce or eliminate undesirable magnetic fields.
This process is also used to turn data from hard drives removed from use and other magnetic media into unrecoverable. A modern demagnetizer is basically a giant box that generates a powerful magnetic field, causing the magnetic domains existing in the magnetic medium to fall into disorder. It is usually extremely reliable, but there could be a problem in the sense that the latest technology hard drives are denser than their ancestors and therefore require more magnetic force to be completely demagnetized. But the current generation of demagnetizers should still be able to be used for a good time yet.
Finally, the physical destruction of the media is an option, although, as discussed above, it is not as fail-proof as it seems. As shown on YouTube, a hard drive can suffer significant damage before the data contained in it becomes unrecoverable. In fact, even if the interior turntables are shattered, it is theoretically possible that someone could piece together and recover the contents.
Actually, simply breaking a hard drive into two parts is not an adequate technique to permanently erase the data at the end of its useful life. If a company takes the path of physical destruction, it must ensure that the media is shattered into as many pieces as possible: most professionals recommend using a special hard disk shredder like this optical media shredding service.
It is easy to assume that the physical destruction of the media is a guaranteed way to erase data safely, but that is not always the case. Doing things right is a process often as slow as any other method and does not require less rigor.