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I need to make two hard drives unreadable. Unfortunately, I have some constraints which make this harder than usual (in particular, they rule out the answers to other questions):

  • I don’t have a computer to mount the drives and erase them (weird, right?)
  • I don’t have a strong magnet
  • I don’t have the right tools (screwdrivers …) to properly dismantle the drives
  • I don’t have access to corrosive chemicals
  • I don’t have a sledgehammer.

How can I destroy the drives with the least monetary / material requirements?

The only thing I can think of off the top of my head is to pinch off the connection pins, and perhaps destroy the circuit board using a small hammer.

I realise that given all the above constraints this may be too much to ask. I’m willing to settle for whatever I can get. I don’t have to fulfil legal obligations of data security, and the data on the discs, though personal, is not critical. I don’t want to prevent the FBI from reading my discs, just the next door wannabe MacGyver.

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closed as too localized by Linker3000, Tom Wijsman, Journeyman Geek, Nifle, tombull89 Oct 5 '11 at 20:32

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maybe a bunch of methods have to be used.. one would be chucking it out a window onto some hard surface. another would be submerging it under water. maybe a deoderant and a lighter, and burn it for a while.. though there may be a healthier way whee you can be further away from it when it burns. A small hammer could dismantle the whole thing so could do a good job. –  barlop Oct 5 '11 at 12:02
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+1 for question weirdness :-) –  Martin Oct 5 '11 at 15:10
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Ask your next door MacGyver if they have a computer, a magnet, a screwdriver, some corrosive chemicals, and a sledgehammer. You'll promise to give them right back. –  LarsTech Oct 5 '11 at 15:57
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Pity you do not have a computer else you could have installed Vista on it. That seemed to render most drives unusable. –  PurplePilot Oct 5 '11 at 16:35
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Copy a super important irreplaceable file onto it. That will guarantee that it will self-destruct beyond repair. At least that is my experience. –  JohnFx Oct 5 '11 at 19:40

19 Answers 19

up vote 27 down vote accepted

HDD are much more resistant than people think. And in one HDD the only thing that really matters are the platters inside it.

Can you make holes over your HD, drilling it? Make sure to drill from top to bottom. 3 holes and you're good. See that one HD have the platters somehow delimited in the top of it, and the connectors are on the other side. Make the holes in the marked positions.

------------
|          |
|  O       |
|       O  |
|   O      |
|          |
\          /
|          |
------------
¨¨¨   ¨¨¨¨
power data

Using a hammer and throwing it against the concrete floor are also good (let's say, 20% compared to make holes).

Running over with a car, even using rocks, is too little to damage the platters.

Fire is insuficient. (About 11 years ago, someone set fire on +- 20 computers in the prosecutor's office I worked, only in 1 computer we couldn't recover the HD data).

Platters are resistant. Someone said about fingerprints over it: once we opened one HDD, and with it running, we thrown some cigar ashes over it. It was still useable. Putting fingers over it: we still could recover information. It only stoped working when we used a screwdriver to create scratches over it.

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A drill might be a good solution. –  Konrad Rudolph Oct 5 '11 at 13:03
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+1 drilling a few holes is the method security-guru Steve Gibson recommends. Taking it apart and shattering the platters of course works, but is a lot more time consuming. –  BlueRaja Oct 5 '11 at 16:00
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Why isn't this drilling answer higher? If you actually want to eliminate the data, you need to destroy the platters. Throwing a drive around won't do squat. Acid, hammers on the platters, drilling the platters, scratching the material off, those erase the data. –  Bart Silverstrim Oct 5 '11 at 20:20
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This may void your warranty. –  Stoney Nov 27 '12 at 10:38

If you just want to prevent your neighbor, then ripping off the circuit board would be enough. You could also mutilate the stickers on the drive, just in case your neighbor gets the idea to buy same drive and transplant boards. Another idea which may be good would be to destroy the wires going into the motor. That, depending on the drive, will require replacement of the motor or the drive case itself if done properly.

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Snipping off the pins will foil your average wannabe-MacGuyver. Some disks expose other circuitry, which you can further damage/destroy in a number of ways.

If the platters remain intact, the [insert-your-security-service-of-choice] will be able to read data off them. So you would need to significantly damage the platters or to wipe them them using a software tool. This seems to be beyond you, given your constraints, but given that you aren't concerned with security services, this shouldn't worry you.

I've never tried it, and won't vouch for any results, but baking the drive might be fun, as would freezing it. If you want to be thorough, alternately bake and freeze it! The expansion/contraction effects would cause plenty of damage I am sure.

You could also drop in the sea/in the middle of a lake, bury it in a forest, simply send it to me and I'll give it my kids - they seem to have knack of destroying all sorts of high-tech equipment that I own.

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Your kids probably seem the safest bet. ;-) –  Konrad Rudolph Oct 5 '11 at 12:10
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Giving to kids won't work. They probably just destroy the things they shouldn't. It's somehow related to the Murphy's law, and you can't try to fool it pretending you don't want to destroy the drive. –  woliveirajr Oct 5 '11 at 13:12
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+1 "Burying in a forest" simple, cheap and kind of reliable if the forrest is big enough. –  sum1stolemyname Oct 5 '11 at 14:09

How can I destroy the drives with the least monetary / material requirements?

You've pretty much ruled out the most common and easiest ways to physically destroy your data, but that being said, you still have two routes that are fairly inexpensive.

Physically Destroy The Drive Platters: Go to your local hardware store, and buy a cheap $5 hammer. Smash hard drive until you are satisfied that the platters have even been warped or somehow deformed. Make this step easier by adding in a small screwdriver set if you don't want to smash the HDD case as well.

Buy An External HDD Enclosure: I've seen these go for like $15 at my local computer store. Pop the drive in an enclosure, and fire up DBAN. Combine with the previous recommendation for even more security!


TL,DR: You have to physically destroy the data on the platters (really easy, just smash them, warp them, bend them, do whatever - even a single fingerprint on the platter will destroy gigabytes of data). You can also use a computer tool to overwrite all of your sectors until you are reasonably satisfied that said data cannot be recovered.

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Aside from what i have below, one thing that i've done by accident a few times is dropped a hard drive while it's turned on. take a hammer and do the same thing (with it turned on).

I've done this multiple ways in the past. The first thing I do is perform Zero Wipes on the hard drive multiple times. This will ensure that even data that was deleted gets written over several times with the 0 Format.

The second step can go one of two directions.

  1. sledgehammer (rock, hammer, anything hard) - bang the heck out of the drive until it's a pancake

  2. overpower - get a powerstrip and a power connector from an old power supply. hook up the hard drive to the power connector and feed the other end into the power strip. Plug in the power strip and flip the switch. It will fry the capacitors and basically the whole board. You can then take the hammer to it.

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Personally, I would do the above, put it in some sea water, sell it on craigslist to some nigerian. Let's call it an unlocked iPhone 6 or something. Send it to them with a declared value of $10,000 and make them pay the taxes on it. –  kobaltz Oct 5 '11 at 13:20
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One thing I've learned in life is that there is no such thing as improper equipment when it comes to destroying something. –  kobaltz Oct 5 '11 at 18:00

I'm not positive how effective this is but for speed and ease I like to take a drill and drill a few holes through the circuit board and on through the platters. I suppose then if you poured a little water in the filters would also be much less effective.

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Free Method: repeatedly throw the HDD against a sidewalk or concrete wall until it comes apart. Then continue to smash the platters (internal disks) until they are extremely damaged.

Side Note: This also provides some stress relief.

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Bonus points if you scatter parts of the hard drive platter into separate trash bins so that they cannot be retrieved and pieced together. –  waterwizard11 Oct 5 '11 at 16:43
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and then launch half of the platters into OUTER SPACE –  fluffy Oct 5 '11 at 17:11
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+1 to Fluffy, nothing was mentioned about not having a Spaceship (perhaps he should have started with what he had) –  tekiegreg Oct 5 '11 at 18:23
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I think you'll all be very surprised at how strong modern hard drive are when this does more damage to the cement than the hard drive. –  Chris S Oct 5 '11 at 20:26

Have a neighbor with a bench vise? Squeeze the heck out of it. You'll surely fracture the platters as well as the motor and the PCB.

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Make a nice campfire (if you are in a rural area) or a ghetto-oven from a barrel (if you are in an urban area).

When the fire is ablaze, put the HDD in the center of the fire. Keep the fire burning for at least an hour or so, in order to let the magnetized surface of the HDD platters to loose their orientation, or even melt if they are made of aluminium.

In response to some comments:

Platters are typically made using an aluminium or glass and ceramic substrate. In disk manufacturing, a thin coating is deposited on both sides of the substrate, mostly by a vacuum deposition process called magnetron sputtering.

source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_disk_platter, emphasis mine

Ghetto oven made from barrel

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magnetized... aluminum. –  Travis Christian Oct 5 '11 at 14:47
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@TravisChristian Correcting what is considered correct spelling in many English speaking countries makes you look very narrow minded. Please take note that there are other countries and continents other than North America... –  R4D4 Oct 5 '11 at 15:07
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I would forego the marshmallows in this case, though. –  Wonko the Sane Oct 5 '11 at 15:17
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@R4D4 I think he was referring to the fact that aluminium cannot be magnetized... In fact, they coat the aluminium with a ferromagnetic substance. –  BloodPhilia Oct 5 '11 at 15:40
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@R4D4 I didn't notice any spelling. Aluminum is a non-magnetic metal. I guess I should have been more explicit. –  Travis Christian Oct 5 '11 at 15:48

I used to work for a Computer Service and we used to destroy platters inside small laptop 2'5 hdds just by hitting them hard over the desk using hand and nothing else. This was done so that the platters would break into pieces (you could hear them that they are in very small pieces) while still the external side would be fine with no visibility of external damage. Then we usually sent them back to producer on warranty case. Worked all the time. Not sure how big drive would react thou :-)

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You mention you may have a small hammer. Is this correct?

There is a hard case on 5 sides of the drive and a much softer cover on the last side (usually the "top" with the labels and such). This softer cover should be able to be significantly dented with a few stiff stikes from a hammer.

Besides that the heat methods mentioned above should work. For instance, if you don't much care what your oven ought to smell like:

Ingredients: 1 Hard Drive, cleaned

Tools: Cookie sheet Aluminum foil

Instructions Heat oven to broil. Clean the hard drive by removing any circuit boards from the drive and any plastic you can. Cover the cookie sheet with the aluminum foil and place the cleaned hard drive in the middle of the tray. Place the tray in the oven near the top (or in the broiler, if you have one). Open a window and get a fan and take the battery out of your fire alarm. Bake until crispy. Serve hot with a dollop of Old World Spumoni ice cream.

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Given the chemicals which will be released by this process, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to use the oven for food after following this advice. –  Mark Booth Oct 5 '11 at 16:20

Microwave the drive. Effective and dangerous. Just be sure you don't use your own microwave. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bUyp00RvTw

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Google for a local shooting range, offer them a target of your Hard Drives. They'll shoot it to shreds (if they're any good).

If that doesn't work, find a sidewalk and have some fun with smashing it into the ground. Repeat until you're happy with it in pieces.*

*: Make sure to pick up your mess

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By far the cheapest and easiest method I've found for destroying drives is to triple bag the drive in good garbage bags and swing it at the concrete a few times. If you have a couple drives you can put them in side by side.. Otherwise adding a couple rocks to the bag helps.

My preferred method as of late is to take my arc welder to the drive.. Melting a drive that has given you headaches is so much more fun.

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4 bucks will buy you a torx bit set on Amazon with which you can deal with any weird screws you may come across.

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Got a hacksaw?

You don't have to cut very far into it, just to notch the platters.

(Personally, I disassemble and mangle the platters.)

There is a real problem of used hard drives migrating to data-robbers in lawless places - leading to identity theft.

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go to imperial state building's roof top. then simply drop it. make sure nobody is down there.

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What is the "imperial state building"? Does Darth Vader work there? –  JohnFx Oct 5 '11 at 19:39
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“Make sure nobody is down there” – how, exactly? Is downtown Manhattan ever this deserted? ;-) –  Konrad Rudolph Oct 5 '11 at 20:07

Charcoal chimney, $10-$20 http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000XSAA2W

Charcoal $5

Total: $15-$25 and you can make steak later (after cleaning the chimney).

Line bottom with charcoal, place hard drive inside, line sides and top with charcoal, light charcoal. Stand back and don't inhale.

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It's a hard drive -- drive over it.

The old traditional way to destroy a drive was to drill holes through it, but I'm guessing you don't have a drill either.

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