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After reading the answers on Permanently delete files from a flash drive, where the top rated answer was simply to pulverize it with a hammer, I wondered whether a microwave could be used to the same effect.

I know microwaves induce currents in metallic objects, which act as antennae (Wikipedia), so this question can be divided into two parts:

  1. Can an induced electric current in a flash storage device destroy data?

  2. Is it plausible that the current induced in a domestic microwave oven would be sufficient to reliably destroy data stored on a flash device?

It has been suggested that microwaving may be an effective way to destroy a spinning hard disk (Destroy a hard drive without proper equipment [closed]), but is it plausible that the same method could be used to delete data on flash chips?

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On the other hand, pulverizing your flash drive with a hammer might give you a sore thumb, but it probably won't burn your house down. –  rakslice Dec 31 '11 at 10:33
Whenever I want to hide something small and valuable, I feed it to my Rottweiler. She keeps it safe for at least 5 hours. –  kobaltz Dec 31 '11 at 16:57 might have some insight to this question. –  LawrenceC Aug 10 at 20:34

4 Answers 4

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Yes, a microwave should be very effective at destroying the gates in a simple flash chip, unless the flash chip was "shielded" like a PCMIA type flash chunk or a SDD, in those situations it would probably destroy the controller, push power back into it well, and might not destroy everything.

Why? Both of those items can be effectively destroyed with a rock caveman style or a hammer for the more civilized individuals

What better location to find it already tried:

The very popular YouTube show, “Microwave This?” has microwaved many products with flash in them, but strangely enough, they haven't done the flash card. (and probably need another episode)

More Data:

Remember that electromagnetic theory is not a fact, even if certain outcomes/examples are. With that said, here are 2 articles that discuss it. The first being more simple concentrated on electromagnetic specific, and the second going for the whole picture from end to end. And no I did not read all of them.

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Do you know the mechanism by which the gates in a flash chip are destroyed? –  James Womack Jan 8 '12 at 10:51
No, but I am thinking that is a pretty good follow-up question to the original. How do the electromagnetic waves turn into electrical arcs when meeting up with a metallic surfaces (like the surfaces of the gates). umm ??? because they are lots of energy to begin with??? –  Psycogeek Jan 8 '12 at 11:10
It has to do with electromagnetic (EM) waves effects on electrons. The EM waves make the electrons move according to its current polarity at any given place and time. When you have a spiky shape (like a wire, like logical gates), and that an EM wave affects its content of electrons, you can safely assume that, depending on the orientation of the waves (and probably many other things), at some point the wave will push a lot too many electron on the spike surface for it to be able to hold them all. At that point you have a jump of electrons from the spike to anything it can reach. –  M. Joanis Jan 8 '12 at 12:13
OK, that was a messy explanation, but I hope you get the idea. When you have a huge (for the small material) forced release of electrons, you get some impressive electrical current going on and afterwards notice the damages on the material (memory doesn't work anymore because everything burned/melted inside). –  M. Joanis Jan 8 '12 at 12:16

I just microwaved a MicroSD that was defective (could read data, but couldn't write or format anymore) and I was trying to destroy it in a way that you could still read what the card is per SanDisk instructions.

I tried 10 seconds, 30 seconds twice, 1 minute, 1 minute 15 seconds, and finally 5 minutes. I could still access all the data that was on there as if I did nothing. So no, Microwaving a SD card is not effective in destroying the data.

What I ended up doing was using a flame to heat the back allowing the plastic to easily come off which exposed the chip. The chip was then easy to physically destroy using a knife tip to gut most of the chip out as shavings. This allows me to still get a warranty replacement without risk of confidential client information falling in the hands of someone else.

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I just watched Psycogeek's video link of a thumb drive bursting into flame after a few seconds of microwaving. You microwaved an SD card for 8 1/2 minutes without affecting it and without destroying the microwave? Then used a blow torch on it, cut it open, and gutted it with a knife, and they gave you a warranty replacement? I'm having a hard time getting my head around this answer. –  fixer1234 Nov 28 '14 at 18:58

Ok, I know this answer is late, but I've not seen it anywhere else and it worked for me:

I wanted to return under warranty. I wanted my files erased / unreadable and the card visibly undamaged.

I took a 9V battery and two wires. I put a wire from each terminal of the battery to a contact on the card, trying out different contact combinations. The card heated up pretty fast. It gets too hot to touch. You'll need to keep the current flowing, get the card very hot. It took around 3 five minute sessions for me to achieve my goal of making the card unreadable.

I guess eventually the insides melted a little or the current damaged the gates. Either way the card was no longer readable. I tested this on multiple readers and devices.

Warning: this method has a risk of burning yourself and potentially other hazards I haven't considered. Replicate my method at your own risk - I take no responsibility for your actions.

Good luck.

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Results may vary based on factors like which Microwave you use.

Anything electronic or metal should not go in microwaves.

I still remember the day that I put a fork in a microwave as a child. From then on, the microwave would emit little spark arcs... like little lightning bolts. It was permanently damaged.

I've since read that with at least some Microwaves, the metal may reflect the microwave and the result may be damage to some shielding. After that, the Microwave may not operate safely the way it was designed to. It may also cause further damage, since the shielding may not work as intended. Also, if the shielding is damaged, that might not be easily visible. Well, that was my understanding from what I read somewhere one day, and it seems consistent with my personal experience.

Granted, a little bit of copper hidden behind plastic might be less prone to cause damage than a metal fork. But, why risk it? You might watch the Microwave carefully and not be able to see visible damage right away. But then if the thing has become less safe, and then further damage happens seventeen weeks from now when you're feeling less concerned and aren't watching the microwave quite as carefully... rakslice's comment about burning a house down was right on the money.

Don't try to charge your iPhone with a Microwave, and don't try to use a standard household microwave oven to nuke electronic components.

If you want to destroy your data without taking out your microwave at the same time, there's always DriveSlag...

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