How to Dispose of a HD at Home

by techtiptom

Originally posted on on 09/28/2010:


Most people just throw their computers in the trash when they purchase a new one, or they scrap certain parts and leave the rest in the dumpster. When it comes down to it, just throwing away your HD is not enough in today’s world. Dumpster divers, con artists and hackers can use that hard drive and mine data on it that could include bank account, credit card and other information to steal your identity, money and life.

While it is safe to dispose of your HD at home, it is only safe if you take certain steps to ensure that nobody can hack the data off of it and use it to harm you. By taking some time and making sure you go about it right, you will save yourself the headache of having your identity stolen by someone who picked up your HD out of the trash while dumpster diving.

Keeping your data safe is the first step to preventing identify theft. With so much of the world revolving around the use of computers and technology, doing everything in your power is the only way to go about disposing of a hard drive that contains sensitive information. If you fail to take disposal seriously, chances are you could set yourself up for some serious problems down the line if your hard drive fell into the wrong hands.

How do I go about disposing my HD?

There are three main ways you can go about disposing of your HD: File-by-file, whole-drive or with power tools. Each method has its pros and cons, but the only sure-fire way to make sure your hard drive is safe is to physically destroy it with power tools or some other means. By making sure the drive is completely inoperable, you ensure that even the smartest of hackers can not get it to work again. These methods can also work for DVDs, CDs, flash drives and other media that might contain sensitive and personal information.

File-by-file disposal revolves around simply wiping all your files from the hard drive while leaving the disk in tact. This comes in handy when you are giving the computer away or are not concerned with going to extra mile to destroy the drive. Most computer users think that by dropping a document in the Recycle Bin, this erases the document. This is just not true; all it does is free up space for more data to be written, that document still sits in the hard drive disk and can be found by somebody who knows what they are doing. Using a data-shredding program is the easiest way to overwrite a file and make sure its original contents can not be found.

Whole-drive disposal is sort of like reformatting the drive but instead it overwrites all the data currently on it so that the original information no longer exists. Another common myth among computer users is that reformatting a hard drive is enough to erase data. Again, this merely frees up space and reinstalls the operating system and other components. Nowadays, some computers have a recovery partition that even when you reformat, all your data is still accessible from the other part of the partition drive. Data-erasing programs can be found for as low as $30 and are the safest whole-drive method for destroying data.

The very basic of whole-drive disposal overwrites the hard drive with a series of binary codes several times over. This ensures that the data is truly buried within a mound of overwritten data that would be hard to recover and is practiced by the United States Department of Defense. It is called the “Wipe Out” operation for short. Operation Wipe Out has three steps: The first overwritten portion is done in ones over the surface, then, followed by a second sweep of zeroes. The third step involves the DOD code of 246 to be written across the drive, and then it must be inspected by a Read-Verify program review to ensure that no data can be found, traced or recovered.

The safest way to dispose of a hard drive is to physically destroy it. Many companies, universities and businesses institute a policy to do just that. All you need is a power drill, gloves and potentially goggles to destroy your drive. Most consumer electronics stores will do this as a courtesy for customers worried about what will happen to their old hard drives. Once you are ready, you want to drill four holes through the hard drive circular discs. This will make the drive unable to spin at all, and nobody will be able to access any information on it. If you have the tools, you can go even further and physically take apart the drive and damage the individual components.

If at any time you do not feel comfortable that you have done enough to destroy your hard drive and render it inoperable, you can always take it to a professional to dispose of. Most consumer electronics stores offer services to safely dispose of your hard drive and make sure that the data on it is unreadable to even the most sophisticated data hackers. While this is not full proof, by taking it to a professional, you have taken the best step to ensure your data is gone from prying eyes.

Most computer users do not keep enough personal information on their hard drives to worry about somebody stealing their identity, but for those who do, taking the disposal of their hard drive seriously is the only way to prevent identity theft. By taking precautions, and making sure to dispose of your drive properly, you will save yourself the hassle of possibly having your identity stolen. If you are cautious about doing it yourself, take it to a professional and watch as they destroy your drive, most are more than happy to show you the process so you feel secure knowing your private information is gone for good.