Hard drives are one of the most critical components of PCs or Macs, and they’re primarily designed for data storage.
Depending on how old your computer is, your hard drive may start failing.
In some cases, you might be able to repurpose a failing hard drive, but at other times, they’ve lived their useful life and need to be safely disposed of.
This probably makes you wonder why it is so important to dispose of an old hard drive.
Why Is It Important to Dispose of an Old Hard Drive?
You know hard drives store a great deal of data including:
- Identity information such as your social security number
- Personal data including photos, videos, chat logs, etc.
- Legal documents such as those related to your properties and tax returns
- Saved financial data such as credit card information and bank login details
In addition to the above information, there might be other information you wouldn’t want others to access.
Even if it seems that your hard drive is no longer functional, your sensitive data can persist on them in various ways.
In today’s digital era, the explosion of hacking and different forms of cyber attacks has seriously threatened cybersecurity.
Cybercriminals can go to great lengths to steal your data.
Considering these data privacy issues, you need to make sure that no one can access your data when you dispose of your hard drive.
Wiping the data from your hard drive is thus a crucial part of hard drive disposal. Let’s now go through the process of disposing of a hard drive:
Steps to Dispose of a Hard Drive
Below are the steps to dispose of a hard drive the right way.
Step 1: Encrypt Your Hard Drive
While you should encrypt all information on your hard drive as soon as you but, do it now before selling or discarding it.
This ensures that your data is protected by a secret key or password, converting it into a code.
Modern systems enable data encryption by default, but you will need to check whether your old system allows that.
Windows 10, Ubuntu, and Mac OS all provide comprehensive information on how to encrypt your hard drives.
A useful cross-platform tool, Veracrypt, can also be used to encrypt data and drives.
When you encrypt your hard drive data, use a strong and complicated password that’s safe from brute force attacks.
Step 2: Wipe the Hard Drive
Whether you decide to recycle your hard drive or destroy it, it is necessary to wipe it before proceeding with the disposal.
Reformatting your hard drive is the most common and effective way to wipe it. You’ll normally find a built-in reformatting tool in all operating systems.
- For Windows, look for the ‘Disk Management’ tool.
- If you use a Mac OS, ‘Disk Utility’ will do the job for you.
- For Ubuntu, search for ‘Disks’ to render the task.
To ensure all your data is irrecoverable, go through the wipe or reformatting process 3 to 4 times.
Also, if you encrypted your hard drive with your Mac, or have been using FileVault, you can skip the wiping process.
Just go ahead with the recycling or destroying the hard drive, provided that the required passcode is complex enough that it cannot be decoded.
However, if you aren’t sure or are still worried, carry out the wipe process.
Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN), is another tremendous tool to erase data from your hard drive, but at the same time ensure that it remains usable. You may not like the program’s interface, but it retains a solid reputation among data security experts.
By now, you shouldn’t be much concerned about data privacy. Encrypting and reformatting should erase all data from the hard drive.
To be on the safe side though, you should render it physically unusable. Unless you intend to drop it at a recycling facility, destroy it.
One might question why put in all the effort of encrypting and wiping the hard drive when you can simply destroy it.
The answer lies in the fact that you can render thorough damage to the data stored in the hard drive by destroying it, but you can’t possibly erase or remove the entire data.
Thus, the encryption and the wiping process are primary.
Step 3: Disassemble the Hard Drive
When you talk about destroying a hard drive, your ultimate objective is to make the drive’s disk or platters un-spinnable.
To access the disk, you need to disassemble the hard drive. Instead of relying on a bunch of obscure screwdrivers, buy a set of computer-tool kit, which includes all sorts of screw heads.
Begin unscrewing every screw you spot, particularly those found on the aluminum cover of the disk.
Some hard drives use the same type of screws, while others carry different types. You may also need other tools such as pliers to pull off the stuck screws.
Step 4: Destroy the Metal Disk
Depending on the age and size of your hard disk, the disk or platter present inside can greatly vary. For 2.5” hard drives, the disk will typically be made of glass, while 3.5” hard drive disks are made of aluminum, with coatings of other materials.
However, since most hard drives carry sharp edges and splinters, make sure you use gloves and goggles when working with it.
Remember, you need to make the disk un-spinnable. Once you have the disc, you can use one or more of the following techniques to destroy it:
The most effective method to destroy disks is to shred it.
Of course, you can’t use your office paper shredder for it. You will have to borrow shredding equipment from the nearest junkyard.
To make it difficult to access data stored in the disc, you need to deform, crack or punch holes in the disk.
Hammering can certainly do this. Since hammers are the most accessible tools for smashing purposes, this technique is also very common.
To make sure it never spins again, you can also drill holes into it.
However, not only do you need a drilling machine for this technique, but you also find a place that can safely hold the disk while you drill holes into it.
Also, you need to be careful when using this technique so that the drilling machine doesn’t harm you. Safety clothing is a must for this method.
Strong rare-earth magnets can greatly scramble the data on the platter, making this an effective technique.
But don’t rely on this technique only because many magnets won’t work.
Also, this technique is hardly used because the most effective magnet types are difficult to access.
If you don’t want to destroy your hard drive or the disk yourself, you can drop it at a recycling center where it will be melted.
You can’t possibly melt a hard drive on your own since there is no specific equipment available to melt a hard drive.
At a metal recycling center, the hard drive is dumped into a vat of molten steel, which guarantees 100% destruction, eliminating any chances of data recovery.
Methods Not Recommended
People use all kinds of techniques to destroy their old hard drives, many of which are extremely dangerous.
For instance, some people put them in the fire. Since hard drives are made of numerous toxic chemicals, putting them in fire releases harmful fumes into the environment that puts you and others in danger.
Microwaves do a great job to destroy DVDs and CDs, but when it comes to obliterating hard drives, you will need to cook them for a long time to blister the disk.
Some websites suggest soaking the drive’s disk in muriatic or hydrochloric acid. There’s a thin coating on the disk that stores all the data. It can be dissolved using these acids.
You should never try this method as you can easily burn yourself or expose yourself to toxic fumes.
If however, you are trained in handling acids, you can consider this method when no one else is around.
When you purchase a new hard drive, your first step should be to encrypt it so that no data can be recovered in case it’s lost or stolen.
When a hard drive reaches the end of its useful life, you’ll be looking forward to its disposal.
When it comes to disposing of a hard drive, your first concern should again be its encryption if it’s not already protected.
The most important aspect is wiping your hard drive to erase all your data to ensure that no one with any computing power can access it.
Once the hard drive is formatted, you move ahead to access the disc inside and destroy it using one or the other techniques.
When you get to physically destroying the hard drive, it is recommended that you watch some YouTube videos on how to safely destroy a hard drive.
If you have children at home or don’t wish to take any risks, simply drop your hard drive to a metal recycling facility which will render the job for you.
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