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I have 3 old 3.5" internal hard drives sitting gathering dust at the moment. 2 are SATA, and one IDE. I want to either start putting them to use, or dispose of them to clear up some space.

What is the best approach towards disposing of the drives in terms of thoroughly cleaning the contents before throwing away or selling? Are there any recommendations for good software to use to do this?

Are there any 100% successful methods which result in having a usable drive at the end?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

There is a similar question on Serverfault: How do I destroy a hard disk? - I wrote one of the answers: :-)

If you are looking for standard procedures and reliable methods, you could read the Guidelines for Media Sanitization (PDF) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

For any given medium there a three basic methods:

  • Clear
  • Purge
  • Physical Destruction

For hard drives they recommend:

Clear:

Overwrite media by using agency-approved and validated overwriting technologies/methods/tools.

Physical Destruction:

  • Disintegrate
  • Shred
  • Pulverize
  • Incinerate: incinerate hard disk drives by burning the hard disk drives in a licensed incinerator.

Purge:

  1. Purge using Secure Erase. The Secure Erase software can be downloaded from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) CMRR site. Purge hard disk drives by either purging the hard disk drive in an
  2. NSA/CSS-approved automatic degausser or by disassembling the hard disk drive and purging the enclosed platters with an NSA/CSS-approved degaussing wand.
  3. Purge media by using agency-approved and validated purge technologies/tools.

Degaussing any current generation hard disk will render the drive permanently unusable.

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If you're doing this in a regular workshop with limited resources and are going for physical destruction, I found the most effective way to be a 50 pound lead sledge after trying normal hammers, screwdrivers, hydraulic presses, etc. –  Stefan Thyberg Jul 21 '09 at 14:53
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And wear safety glasses. O_x –  GalacticCowboy Jul 21 '09 at 15:45
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Anybody know where I can find an ACME-2000 disintegrator? –  Rolnik Aug 20 '09 at 16:16
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The answer would be no. Modern disk drives have some smarts in the controllers, and will monitor for failing sectors on their own. Once they find one, they generally make sure nothing gets to that sector again, and it's possible that that sector contains something sensitive, and can still be read by some means.

If you're willing to take the chance that a sophisticated user with a lot of resources might be able to read some sectors that possibly had information you might have cared about, then find some software that overwrites all the accessible sectors.

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In the UK, the government has a sure-fire disposal system. They take the drives and drill 9 massive holes in them in a 3x3 graph. Let's just say, the UK hasn't gotten a privacy leak from disposed drives in a long time. :)

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Surprisingly pragmatic for Whitehall! –  GaryJL Jul 21 '09 at 15:04
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Just from the laptops they like leaving on trains... –  Draemon Jul 21 '09 at 15:41
    
The secure document issue in the UK was physical paper documents left on a train, not a laptop so even bigger security fail, anyone can access a folder with paper inside it. –  Nick Josevski Sep 3 '09 at 12:58
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