How to Destroy a Hard Drive – Degaussing

Unfortunately, data breaches, identity theft, and fraud have become a constant in the modern world. These issues are not limited to large corporations, but also impact individuals, small businesses, and medium-sized businesses. When you are getting rid of an old computer, you need to be mindful about the data that was stored on that machine. The only way to ensure the continuity of data security for an old computer is to intentionally destroy the drive. If you are wondering how to destroy a hard drive, this guide outlines a high level overview of the process.

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Why Would Someone Want to Destroy a Hard Drive?

If you were previously unaware, it’s possible for professional data recovery engineers to restore data from devices that have sustained varying degrees of damage. Dropping your hard drive in a lake or attempting to roast the drive in a bonfire will almost certainly result in a drive that is useless to the average person. However, proper data security involves accounting for edge cases, so let’s assume that the “bad guy” who is trying to access the data on your old hard drive is capable of hard drive data recovery. To account for a scenario like this, you need to render your hard disk drive beyond the reach of a data recovery professional. Software for wiping data is an inadequate solution. The data recovery professionals at Data Savers have recovered countless files for clients who accidentally erased or reformatted various data storage devices.

In this short guide, you’ll find out more about common options for destroying a hard drive.

What is Degaussing?

Degaussing is the most effective solution for permanently destroying the data from a hard disk drive. If you are interested in improving the data security of a large organization, the Proton T4 Industrial Grade Degausser industrial grade degausser is recommended by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and National Security Agency (NSA) . Fair warning, as of August 24th, 2022 the Proton T4 costs $17,758.

Degaussing is a process of permanently erasing data from hard drives using a powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP). When a degausser emits an EMP, the pulse neutralizes the numerous miniscule magnetic fields on each platter of a hard disk drive. After demagnetization, the hard drive is no longer operational. Degaussing is recognized by National Security Agency (NSA) as an effective hard drive sanitization method. The key advantage of using the degaussing technique is that in just a few seconds you can completely erase all data.

Alternative Approaches to Destroying a Hard Drive

Before you can understand how to destroy a hard drive, it would be helpful to gain a general understanding of how HDDs work. Hard disk drives are named for the rigid disks (platters) that allow for persistent data storage. When a hard drive is not connected to a computer / power supply, the platters rest on a spindle motor inside the drive’s case. When the drive is connected to a computer / power source, the spindle motor rotates the platters, and mechanisms called read – write heads either read or write data to or from your hard drive. As far as this article is concerned, the platters are the only components that matter. If you are dead set against degaussing, the following section breaks down two alternative strategies for destroying a hard drive.

Physical Destruction – How to Destroy a Hard Drive

If you are interested in a more hands on approach to destroying your hard drive, it’s possible to physically destroy a hard disk drive. If you open your hard drive’s case, you should see shiny metal disks that rotate, these are the platters. You can crush the platters with a rock / hammer / etc. Don’t forget to wear safety goggles and gloves. Be careful picking up the shattered platters, there will almost certainly be sharp pieces. 

Chemical Destruction – How to Destroy a Hard Drive

If you are interested in a novel approach to data security, have experience working with hazardous chemicals, and happen to have access to / the capacity to synthesize nitric acid, you can destroy your hard drive through chemical means. Nitric acid is an extremely corrosive mineral acid capable of melting most metals. If you were to place your hard disk drive in a vat of nitric acid, the drive would certainly be rendered unreadable, as the drive would no longer exist in it’s original state.