What is Physical Data Destruction?
If hard drives cannot or will not be reused, physical destruction may be the best option for data destruction. The primary drawbacks to physically destroying hard drives for the purpose of data destruction are that it is more expensive than non-physical destruction and it is bad for the environment. Additionally, physical destruction is prone to error and data could be recovered using forensic methods. Methods for physical data destruction include:
Melting. Melting hard drives involves dipping them in acid to destroy their platters and housing. This method is highly effective, but it is also very dangerous, as it involves using hydrochloric and nitric acids. These acids are dangerous to the environment and almost any compound, including human skin.
Drilling. Drilling involves using hand drills, hammers, or nail guns to partially destroy its platter and ensures most people cannot recover the data. This method does leave a significant amount of the hard drive platters intact, which could leave the device vulnerable to hacking.
Shredding. Shredding is an effective physical destruction method that involves running the drive through a machine known as a shredder, which slices the entire hard drive into small pieces with 40,000 lbs. of force. The process obliterates the drive platters, mechanisms, and electronic components, rendering the data unrecoverable. Shredders may also compress the shredded material into compact forms for disposal. This method must often be outsourced due to shredders and compactors being expensive, and environmental contaminants are released in the shredding process.
Disintegration. Disintegration is similar to shredding and is usually done after shredding. This method requires disintegrators and grinders that have rotating blades or hammers for disintegration. The storage device is fed into the disintegrators where screens are used to filter out the larger pieces at the output; those pieces are then fed back into the disintegrators to be broken into even smaller pieces. Disintegration shreds the storage device into pieces that are non-uniform in shape and size, and the pieces are much smaller than what remains after shredding.
Crushing. The crushing method uses crushing equipment that may have a conical array of metallic teeth. The equipment, with its jaws and teeth, applies 7,500 lbs. of pressure on the subjected storage media. The storage device receives such a strong blow that it breaks through the chamber that encases the physical hard drive and makes the drive data unrecoverable. This method is less costly than shredding, but shredding can be more effective.
Incineration. With incineration, storage devices are fed into an incinerator and burned at high temperatures until they are reduced to ashes.