Big Data is part of our lives and we create a lot of it. If fact, users globally generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every single day. Traditional hard drives (HDD) use spinning platters with mechanical moving parts and nonvolatile storage that retain your data even after the power is shut off. Solid-state drives (SSD) utilize integrated circuits, which can store large amounts of data that can be accessed very quickly. In this case, interconnected flash memory chips also retain the data after the power is shut off.  Regardless of your storage medium of choice, you need to realize that your hard drive will always contains documents, emails, banking statements, and loads of personal information directly tied to you.

Therefore, it is imperative that every time you move your data to a new platform and discard your old PC, you properly destroy your digital data that resides on the hard drive. Destroying a hard drive should be like destroying a physical paper document. For example, an old tax file contains your physical address, social security number, account number, spouse, and other private information that a cyber thief would love to get their hands on. And the best way to destroy that file is with a micro cross cut paper shredder.

A computer HDD or SSD is just a file full of information. Government agencies, law enforcement, and of course cyber criminals, use special software to extract data that was thought to be erased on any discarded hard drive. Remember, when you place any document in the trash bin icon on your desktop and empty the trash, you are not truly deleting this file from your hard drive. You are merely deleting the reference to that file so that the computer’s operating system does not find it. All the data still resides on your hard drive, and unless it is overwritten, it can be easily recovered using file recovery software. Even full formatting of any hard drive can still yield much data for recovery. If you desire to truly erase your hard drive, I recommend data destruction software that erases all data by overwriting every single byte. But this process can take hours or even days to overwrite large volumes so I recommend a more effective and fun way to accomplish data destruction.

There are many ways to physically destroy a hard drive. Machines that puncture the drive’s platters using a focused center pin and tons of force is one way. This is effective though not nearly as spectacular nor satisfying as a digital shredder. Like a traditional paper shredder, a digital shredder completely annihilates all semblance of a computer’s hard drive. It chews up metal HDDs and plastic and silicon SDDs and spits them out into tiny confetti-like particles. The other advantage of a digital media shredder that they don’t discriminate and also destroy smart phones, USB sticks and even tablets with equal ferocity.

There are services that perform device shredding for large companies, but you have to trust they will properly destroy and recycle your devices. Large companies are being hacked and even willingly selling off our data these days, which does require a certain degree of trust by anyone needing true data security. If you do use such service, make sure they provide a certificate verifying they did in fact shred the devices with dates, and have the model numbers and serial numbers noted on the certificate.

Offices that routinely dispose of sensitive data opt for their own digital shredders such as Intimus’ FlashEx Media Shredder in order to personally verify all data destruction. The newest generation of digital shredders have specially designed claws that grab the target device and pull it into their solid cutting heads. Shredded HDD platters, phones and tablets are totally destroyed leaving only 4 x 15 mm waste particles. These can be recycled for scrap metal so you are not filling land fills with old hard drives and smart phones. It is important to note that before shredding any tablet or smart phone, you must remove the battery as Li-ION batteries will explode under pressure or when punctured. No one wants a repeat of the Samsung Note 7 exploding phones debacle from 2016.

In this age of hacking, dumpster diving and IP theft, the value of data far exceeds any other currency. Digitally deleting sensitive information is prudent but only a first step for those who are truly serious about data privacy and security.


Scott Schober, BVS president/CEO, cybersecurity expert, author of Hacked Again