Delete Sensitive Data before Discarding Your Media

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Identity theft and the gathering of personal information is big business, at least for the people determined to collect it. It’s one thing to innocently throw away a credit card bill only to have someone find the information in the trash and use it to their advantage. But it’s another thing entirely to get rid of a hard drive or CD-ROM containing sensitive data. In addition to identity theft, there are government compliance standards such as NIST, HIPAA and GLBA that hold you or your company liable if you improperly dispose of sensitive data. That’s why you have to be smart and destroy sensitive information before parting with computer media.

CDs and DVDs

CDs and DVDs are easy to destroy. You can buy shredders that cut up CDs and DVDs, which obviously can’t be read once chopped. You can also snap discs in half so they can never be read again. If you aren’t comfortable breaking a disc in half, or want to avoid having sharp bits of plastic fly into your eyes, you can destroy CDs and DVDs simply by scraping off some of the foil layer with a sharp piece of metal.

CDs and DVDs consist of a plastic disc with a metallic layer on top, which is usually silk-screened over with some sort of label. The metallic layer contains the data. If you damage or remove parts of this layer, a disc can no longer be read. Once you see metallic flakes coming off a disc, and can then see through those parts of the disc, it’s guaranteed to be unreadable.

Hard Disks

Disabling hard disks is another story. Even if you delete all the files on a hard disk, the files never really are deleted. Think of a hard drive as a combination file cabinet and blackboard; files are stored in the file cabinet and their location is noted on the blackboard. When you delete a file, its record is wiped off the blackboard but the file itself is never removed from the cabinet. The file will remain intact until it’s overwritten by new data. That’s why it’s relatively easy to restore deleted files.

The only way to ensure that files are removed from a hard drive is to overwrite all data on the disk. Although B&H doesn’t sell software to erase hard drives, it’s very easy to find such programs online, and many of them are free. If you’re in the business of erasing hard drives, and have a vast budget, B&H sells hard drive erasers that will do the job. If your budget is only half-vast, you can manually overwrite the drive. Just delete everything on the drive and then clone large sets of data until the drive is once again full. Be sure to use data that’s not copyrighted, with file sizes as large as possible, such as public-domain video.

If you don’t care whether or not a hard drive remains functional, you can simply destroy it, rendering its contents unreadable. Destroying a hard drive is not as easy as breaking a CD in half but it’s not that hard either. If you drill holes through the drive, right through the platters, it will have spun its last rotation.

If you don’t have a drill, or if you dispose of multiple hard drives on a regular basis, the high-end hard drive destroyers sold by B&H can the job. These machines use powerful magnetic fields to erase hard drives, or they physically pierce or crush them, rendering them useless. Of course, you could do the same thing with a sledge hammer and lots of elbow grease, but there’s nothing like a finely tuned machine to do the job smoothly and quickly.