Hard Drive Destruction
Hard drive destruction is an important aspect of data security because it ensures that sensitive information cannot be recovered from a discarded or retired hard drive. However, there are many misconceptions surrounding hard drive destruction that can lead to confusion and ineffective data protection. What you do with your drives at the end of their life matters, and avoiding the myths and concentrating on the facts will mitigate the risk of data exposure.
Examining What a Hard Drive Is
In case you are part of the rare breed of people who have never heard of a hard drive, we’ll quickly dive into what it is and how they are used.
A hard drive is a data storage device that uses magnetic disks or flash memory to store digital information. It is one of the primary storage devices for computers and servers, and it is where the operating system, applications, and user data are stored. Typically, they are divided into several partitions, which are used to store different types of data, such as the operating system, applications, etc., and can hold varying amounts depending on the overall size of the drive itself.
Types of Hard Drives
There are several types of drives that exist today, with their own specific use cases and applications such as personal computers, servers, storage arrays, backup systems, etc. Types of drives include:
- Magnetic hard drives: These are the most common type of hard drive and use magnetic disks to store data. They come in two main form factors: 3.5-inch, typically used in desktop computers, and 2.5-inch, typically used in laptops.
- Solid-state drives (SSDs): Becoming increasingly more popular, these use flash memory to store data, which allows them to access and transfer data much faster than traditional magnetic hard drives. They also consume less power and generate less heat.
- Hybrid hard drives: These combine the storage capacity of a magnetic hard drive with the speed of an SSD by using a small amount of flash memory to store frequently-used data.
- Network-attached storage (NAS) drives: These are hard drives that connect to a network and can be accessed by multiple devices at once. They are typically used for storing and sharing large files, such as videos and music.
- External hard drives: These are hard drives that are housed in an external enclosure and connect to a computer via USB, FireWire, or eSATA. They are often used for backing up data or for adding additional storage capacity to a computer.
- Tape drives: Tape drives use magnetic tapes to store data. These are mostly used for backup and archival purposes.
No matter the type of drive, the reality is the use of hard drives to store confidential information is more prominent now more than ever. Businesses cannot afford to overlook protecting the information of their clients, employees, and intellectual property once the use of a hard drive has reached the end of its data lifecycle, especially considering how readily available the information can be on any one drive. Hard drive destruction prevents data thieves from accessing any data, and is the foolproof way the data is unrecoverable.
So, when it comes to hard drive destruction don’t fall prey to one of these 7 myths:
- Recycling Will Do the Trick
While we all strive to protect the environment, and make sure we are doing our part for future generations, simply recycling your hard drives is no guarantee that the information contained on them is destroyed and inaccessible. You will want to make sure you use a professional hard drive destruction service that provides both on-site and off-site hard drive shredding (depending on your business needs) and provides you with a document of hard drive destruction so that you know your hard drives have been disposed of securely.
- Simply Erasing a Hard Drive Gets Rid of Info
Deleting the files on a hard drive can make you feel safe that information on the drive is no longer accessible. However, programs exist that data thieves can use to extract that information even though it has been deleted. Erasing a hard drive using the built-in formatting or wiping tools can only delete the reference to the data, not the data itself. This means that the data still physically exists on the hard drive and can be recovered by someone with the right tools and expertise.
- Taking a Magnet to a Hard Drive Works
In the early days of personal computing, magnets affected the ability to read what information was contained on a hard drive. However, even then, exposing a hard drive to a very strong magnetic field was necessary to make the data stored on it inaccessible. Today, hard drives are built differently, and are far more resistant to magnets than ever before. So before you take all the magnets from your refrigerator, know that it would be nearly impossible to cause any damage to a hard drive – the magnetic field would be too weak. It would take something much stronger – say a magnet that you would find in an MRI machine. Even then, the drive would have to be in extreme close proximity for multiple days for damage to occur.
- Hoarding Hard Drives and Locking Them Away Protects Them
While we always recommend that your business have a hard drive destruction policy, many businesses do not. This leads to simply storing the drives in a closet or area where free space is available. It doesn’t take much to realize that doing so puts your business at extreme risk. Just like documents, businesses should have a retention policy on how long to keep hard drives. It is important to remember that hoarding hard drives also leads to them becoming outdated or obsolete over time, and the cost of storing and maintaining them can become significant.
- Small Businesses Do Not Get Targeted
This may be one of the biggest myths when it comes to hard drive destruction. While it may seem that only large corporate businesses are a target for data thieves (because they make the headlines daily), data theft affects small business owners with equal opportunity. According to the Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report, in 2021 43% of breaches hit small businesses. Verizon also indicated that the majority of those were attacks to target small businesses for financial gain. Small businesses often have valuable data that data thieves can exploit, such as customer information, financial data, and proprietary business information. As a result, diligently protecting information during the entirety of its lifecycle is integral to mitigating risk.
- Formatting a Drive Will Delete Information
When a hard drive is formatted, the file system on the drive is erased and a new one is created. This effectively removes the index of where files are stored on the drive, making them inaccessible to the operating system. However, the actual data from the files may still be present on the drive, and it can still be recoverable using specialized data recovery software. This data can be anything ranging from credit card numbers to email addresses, depending on what was stored on the drive.
- Damaging Hard Drives Will Stop Thieves
There are many ways to damage a hard drive; hitting it with a hammer, running it over with a car, dropping it from a very tall building, or even dropping a bowling ball on it repeatedly. Just know, as foolproof as these all may seem, there are ways to repair that same drive. Putting a few dents in the drive is not going to deter data thieves from trying to access the valuable information contained within.
Well how should a hard drive be destroyed?
Certified hard drive destruction is the simple answer to alleviate the risks and concern that valuable data is accessible on old drives. Working with a full-service records management company and making sure the retention policy of your hard drives and documents is aligned with reducing risk and maintaining compliance is a must. Physically destroying the drive using professional equipment such as a hard drive shredder makes a drive 100% inaccessible, and will help any organization comply with data regulation.