Hard drives aren’t meant to last forever, especially considering the average warranty period is less than five years. When your hard drive dies or you’re ready to upgrade to a new one, data security demands that you properly destroy the old drive before you recycle it or throw it away.
Once a hard drive is destroyed, it won’t be usable again, and its data will be beyond recovery. Ensure you’re prepared for that by backing up your data before you start.
Why Would I Want to Destroy My Hard Drive?
Throwing out a hard drive isn’t like throwing out a power supply. Your personal information stored on the disk over the years doesn’t disappear simply by removing it from your computer.
Even a hard drive that’s been wiped and re-wiped may not be entirely beyond recovery. Any personal information you have could be recovered by an expert who wants to gain access to the files you stored on it during its tenure in your computer.
Many people keep sensitive medical and financial documents on their computers. Even if all you’ve saved is pictures and videos, your privacy is valuable and well worth the time it will take you to ensure your hard drive is beyond recovery.
What Does It Mean to Properly Destroy a Hard Drive?
That depends on what your goals for the hard drive’s destruction are. For most people, it means the hard drive won’t be usable again, and the data will be completely removed and unrecoverable.
There are two things you can do to destroy a hard drive. The most security-conscious people will actually take both steps to cover all their bases.
First, you should completely wipe the drive with a program that offers a high level of security. Many are available and knowing how to compare them will help you find the best one for your purposes.
How to Properly Destroy a Hard Drive?
To properly destroy a hard drive, remove all your information and then physically destroy it.
While the software doesn’t strictly destroy a hard drive, you should use it to clear your hard drive and wipe your data before.
Step 1: Choose Your Software
You’re looking for a program that performs a secure wipe. They’re also called data sanitization software. Depending on your selection, they use different methods to destroy your data.
- Check out the features of the data destruction software you’re considering. There are many comparisons to help you see how they differ from each other. For example, some cost money while others are free. Some work with standard hard drives but won’t work with solid-state drives. Others may offer customized settings, including a specific number of passes.
- Read reviews to see what positives and negatives other users have discovered when using the software. You might also see which ones work best with your current operating system.
- Check with your system administrator or IT department if you’re clearing a computer for work. They may have specific protocols they prefer.
Whatever you choose, it should all accomplish the same goal – to remove your data and overwrite it until the original data cannot be retrieved again.
Step 2: Install the Software
Once you’ve selected your software, install it where you can easily find it. You need to be able to access the drive with your computer to run the software, of course. It won’t work with a drive that isn’t attached to a computer.
Of course, you can always plug it into an active computer with the data destruction software installed, run it, and then remove it again.
Step 3: Run the Software
The way you run the software is dependent on which you’ve selected. Each one has its own methods. Look for an FAQ or tutorial from the place where you download it to find specifics about how to proceed if necessary.
Clearing Your Drive with Windows
If you aren’t worried about the data on your drive falling into someone else’s hands, you can just give it a good wipe with Windows. Doing so will remove all the accounts and personal files on your computer.
- Press the Windows Key +X.
- Choose Settings.
- Choose Update and Security.
- Click Recovery.
- Select Get Started.
- Choose Remove Everything.
- Click Reset and select your options as desired.
Remember that this method is less secure than a secure wipe or zeroing your hard drive. But it will make it so that no one can plug in your hard drive and access the files.
To truly destroy your hard drive, you need to break it so that the data on it can’t be recovered even by a skilled data retrieval specialist. You’ll need a Torx screwdriver compatible with your hard drive, a hammer, and a pry tool.
- Use the Torx screwdriver to remove the screws that hold the hard drive’s casing together. There should be several on the outer edges of the hard drive casing itself. Set them aside if you want to put the hard drive back together, but it isn’t necessary to do so.
- Work the label on top of the casing off until you find another Torx screw. You can find it by feeling its surface if you want to avoid peeling off the entire label. Once you’ve exposed it, remove that screw too. It’s essential to check carefully and ensure you’ve removed all the screws so the top plate will come off.
- Wedge the pry tool under the lip of the top plate of the hard drive casing. Work it off. It should come apart so you can access the internals.
- Remove the screws holding the circular plates in the case. The data you save is recorded, retrieved, deleted, and rewritten in these plates. They are what you want to ensure is damaged beyond repair so that your data is secure.
- Drag the pry tool or another hard, sharp object across each platter’s surface. Don’t be cautious here – you’re trying to ruin the drive completely, so you can’t go overboard with how much you damage them. Scratch them up!
- Take the hammer and damage the platters even more. While scratching them probably did the job well enough, there’s no harm in a little extra assurance. Hit the platters with the hammer until they’re visibility damaged.
- Dispose of the hard drive properly, and rest assured that no one will be able to retrieve your data.
At this point, your data should only be retrievable by specialists. You can safely get rid of the drive.
This works because the plates where the data is recorded are very delicate. You might notice the hard drive making a strange sound if they’re damaged even a little while it’s operating in the computer. It’s a signal of impending drive failure, which explains why damaging the plates is a great way to destroy the drive.
Do I Need to Physically Destroy My Hard Drive?
You don’t have to destroy your hard drive physically – but there’s no reason not to either. It shouldn’t take long, it isn’t dangerous, and it gives you an extra layer of security beyond data destruction software.
Deciding how you want to destroy your drive is really about how sensitive the information on it is. If you keep your banking information or medical data on a drive, it should be physically destroyed after you’ve overwritten the data. If it was a hard drive for music or movies, it might not be a problem if someone could find it and reassess the data. Do what makes you most comfortable.