Should You Destroy Your Old Hard Drive?

It might seem like paranoia to completely destroy a hard drive rather sell it on eBay or try to use it in a friend’s computer, but these days you can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting your identity.  Most people do not even realize what kind of information their hard drives hold.  These little memory boxes can hold data like your credit card information, banking information, email passwords, and other passwords that you use online.

But this is impossible, right?  I mean, you already reformatted the hard drive and erased all of that data.  Think again.  It’s actually not that hard to restore data in a hard drive that has been erased.  And this is because you are not actually erasing anything.  You are simply removing an access point to find the information.  But with a simple piece of software anyone can retrieve this “deleted” data and access what you thought was buried forever.  This includes everything from pictures to videos and it takes a lot more than a simple erasure to get rid of them for good.

Contrary to common belief, even reformatting a hard drive will not make your data “go away”.  Remember, that just because you can’t find any information on the hard drive anymore doesn’t mean that someone else can’t.   If anything, thinking a reformat of the hard drive will remove private information just creates a false security.  And if you plan on selling your old computer to someone else you need to make sure that there is no possible chance that they can retrieve your old information.

Many people have just opted to destroy their hard drive the physical way.  You can try boiling it in hot water and then smashing it with a hammer, burning it in a fire, running it over with your car, or even blowing it up with some fireworks.  But this is a little over the top for most of us, unless you want to make a really cool Youtube video for your friends to watch.  You can even get special magnets that are very powerful and made for erasing data, but they can cost a pretty penny.

There are many good hard drive erasers online as well that can make your hard drive practically impossible to read.  These are for people who still want to use their hard drives after they have erased them and don’t want to completely destroy them and waste all that money.  These software programs will write over your hard drive over and over again in random binary code.  Since data on your hard drive cannot really be erased it is simply overwritten to make the old data impossible to read.  Some of these methods are used by the pentagon to erase their hard drives as well.

If you want to protect your personal identity you need to find some way to destroy your hard drive whether that be by physical or technological means.  But if you want to reuse that hard drive or sell it in another computer you should be prepared to use a good software program to do just that.  Just remember that you will need to reinstall your computer’s operating system, as these hard drive cleaners will wipe out anything on your computer.

Phillip Richards writes about identity protection and has written several reviews on identity theft protection services like the Lifelock review and Trusted ID review.
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  1. Personally, I use a plasma cutter and cut the drive platter in little pieces. Hard drives are cheap – less than $100 for 1.5TB. So, why bother trying to save it? People don’t realize, when you take your computer on warranty to get a defective HD fixed, they don’t fix it. They replace the hard drive. Then they bundle up all the “failed” drives and sell them to ‘brokers’ who, frequently, sell them at flea markets and such. If you buy a hundred drives for $15 and one can be salvaged, it is worth it. i have purchased warranty return hard drives at yard sales that contained data such as names, addresses, checking account numbers, etc. When you take your computer to have the hard drive fixed, ALWAYS ask for the old one back. If not, it is possible your personal information will be sold at a yard sale for $10. (I bought a used laptop computer on eBay from a school district that contained the full text of over 200 IEPs, complete with names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, social security numbers, etc. Everything i needed to steal the identity of all 200 kids. I did not have to use data recovery software – the hard drive had not been given even a cursory data wipe. I immediately called my niece’s school’s IT director and asked how they ‘destroyed’ data… The answer was a little disheartening.) Hard drives are cheap. So, out comes the plasma cutter…