Oftentimes, PCs with sensitive data wind up in on-line stores or exported by a recycler to a disassembly plant. If the drives are not properly wiped, the buyer or recycler can easily access the data unless the drive is encrypted. Before discarding your PC or server, it’s a good idea to destroy the data that’s in it. If you are in a regulated industry, this may be required of you. If you are one of our clients, you know we offer secure asset disposal. But what can an individual or small business that doesn’t have the benefits of a managed IT service provider do before discarding their PCs or servers? This post discusses several ways you can destroy data on a hard drive in a do-it-yourself setting.

There are two ways to destroy data. The first is by using a data wipe software and the second is by physically destroying the drive.

Even if you are just a home user and you delete your documents, your drive should be erased because it can still contained cached files and logs of sensitive transactions, cookies, credit cards and other information that can wind up in the wrong hands. Business PCs are even bigger liabilities if improperly discarded, especially if they were used by financial, HR, managerial or other staff that handle sensitive data.

The data resides inside drive platters and they are enclosed by metal. Smashing the PCB, throwing the hard drive against the sidewalk or simply formatting the disk may be good enough to prevent a typical end user from accessing the data, but a hacker with the right tools and know how can still recover the data if the platters inside the disk are intact.


Destroying The Data and Leaving the Drive in a Usable State

If you plan on selling or donating your PC or server, it will be necessary to destroy the data while leaving the drive intact for future use. Simply formatting the drive or using FDISK to erase the partition will render the drive unable to be read by an OS but any simple data recovery program can retrieve the data still in the drive.

For PCs or laptops, a program such as the freely available Disk Wipe (shown below) can destroy the data by setting the bits to zero (or randomizing them) track by track, sector by sector… There are different levels of destruction and you should make your choice based on the sensitivity of the data. This can take a long time but your data will be erased while the PC/drive will be able to have a new OS installed and used by another person. These program can run on your desktop in which case you will need to add the drive to be destroyed as a secondary drive OR you can create a bootable disk image and boot from the image. Either way, it does require a basic level of computer savvy.




For servers with RAID controllers, restart the server and access the RAID controller’s BIOS. From there, perform a low level RAID format, delete the RAID volume, re-arrange the drive order and repeat the process one or two more times depending on the level of sensitivity of the data.

If you don’t have the technical skills to perform the above stated task but you do know how to operate a drill or a grinder, read on! The the second method is low tech and equally effective.


Physically Destroying the Drive and its Data

If the PC or server will be discarded for recycle, the quickest way to secure the data is to physically destroy the drive. Do do this, you may require a drill with a metal bit and/or a grinder. Why a grinder, you ask? If you try drilling a hole in an enterprise grade hard drive such as a Seagate Cheetah, you will wish you had a grinder!


Desktop PCs and low-cost server drives can be destroyed with a drill and a metal drill bit. Flip the drive on its underside and drill 3 holes, each hole 1/2 inch from the edge of the drive spindle as shown below (image item 1).  Drill all the way down until you reach the last disk platter. If it takes you more than 15 seconds to perforate the metal cover and get to the platters, you may have an enterprise grade drive. You can accomplish the task with a drill but if you have multiple drives to destroy, a grinder will make the job much easier.


High end servers have better quality enterprise grade drives. You can tell them apart by the weight, they usually weigh considerably more than non-enterprise drives. If you have a lot of enterprise drives to destroy, using a drill is not going to be quick and easy. A grinder can cut the time it takes to destroy each drive from 1-2 minutes to about 15 seconds.

The center of the rounded part of the drive ( image item 1) is the spindle and the disk’s data extends to the outer edges (image item 2) of the round platters. Cut along the disk platters until reaching the bottom of the metal casing. This will not only destroy the platter but the heat created will fuse the platters and further destroy data.


The hard drive’s internal components are shown below.


The area between the inner and outer red circle is the disk platter, where data is stored magnetically. This is the area you want to perforate or destroy.

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