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Dr. Conspiracy’s guide to hard drive recycling

Because of interest in a recent story about an unrecoverable hard drive used by Lois Lerner of the IRS, I took a few minutes to explain why a recycled drive might not readable. Here is

Dr. Conspiracy’s guide to hard drive recycling

If you are a government agency with surplus computer equipment, it is important that sensitive data not fall into the wrong hands such as a Republican-led Congressional committee, or a right-wing talk show host, when that equipment is taken out of service. This handy tutorial shows how to erase information from a hard drive before recycling.

Specifications for hard drives include limits on the amount of shock the drive can absorb without damage. Since the goal of the procedure is to prevent the drive from performing, shock is a good first step in making the drive unreadable. As a professional government employee, it is important to dress professionally when carrying the procedures in this tutorial. The following illustration shows one measured way to apply shock to the drive:

IMAG0002_cropped

After the procedure the drive should look similar to this:

IMAG0003_cropped

A second limiting factor in a hard drive’s ability to function properly and retain its data is temperature. Here you will want to review the “storage temperature” on the drive and apply heat in excess of the published limit. Be sure to wear safety glasses when carrying out this procedure:

IMAG0005_cropped

Here is the hard drive following application of the elevated temperature procedure:

IMAG0007_cropped

Most drives have a warning against opening the drive, as this can introduce dust and other foreign matter that can render the drive unreadable. The following illustration shows one method for opening the hard drive. First select an appropriate tool such as this:

IMAG0008_cropped

Insure that you have a clear area around you when opening the drive:

IMAG0011_cropped

The following detail photo shows the proper placement of the tool on the drive:

IMAG0010_cropped

The following illustrates how the hard drive should look after completing of the procedure. Note that the procedure should be repeated until the drive is clearly open.

IMAG0012_croppedAfter concluding the simple three steps above, you can be assured that data will not be read from the hard drive by the wrong people.

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38 Responses to Dr. Conspiracy’s guide to hard drive recycling

  1. avatar
    JPotter June 19, 2014 at 8:14 am #

    Thanks for the early morning laughs, Doc …. and the flashbacks from my college days!

    *ahem*

  2. avatar
    Keith June 19, 2014 at 8:17 am #

    You forgot your safety gloves during step number two. I think you’ll find that requirement in section 33, paragraph 432, bullet point 3.a.iii of the “Contract for Recycling Services – data drives; IDE; greater than 150 megabytes; failed”

  3. avatar
    Smirk4Food June 19, 2014 at 8:38 am #

    I notice that you were in shirt sleeves when you did this demonstration. Can I presume it was done on a casual Friday?

  4. avatar
    JPotter June 19, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Keith: You forgot your safety gloves during step number two.

    safety goggles, as well …. consumer eyewear is insufficient.

    face shield must also be worn during application of temperature.

    And wearing of a tie …. yeegads, that’s right out.

    aggressive openings may call for use of ballistic apron. ;)

    Any serious HD recycling op would lavish attention upon individual plates after opening …

    When can we expect a followup regarding SSDs?

  5. avatar
    mimi June 19, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Printing out for future reference. :)

  6. avatar
    interestedbystander June 19, 2014 at 9:03 am #

    What, no mintos?

  7. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 19, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    Very funny, Doc!

    Next stop on the train to Crazy Town: Someone at BR claiming you are obviously part of the conspiracy to hide evidence of the Great Usurper’s demonic (is that capitalized?) plan for America.

  8. avatar
    alg June 19, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    I have used some of those very same techniques to purge an obsolete hard drive of personal data, They work pretty well! :-)

  9. avatar
    tim June 19, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    On a serious note – hard drives today are essentially incinerated when their lifespan ends. The old method of just chipping them proved ineffective as your could still recover data from the individual parts plus chipping proved environmentally unfriendly. The older method of ‘deguassing’ was proven ineffective over a decade ago.

  10. avatar
    Andrew Vrba, PmG June 19, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Thanks for the deep belly laugh, Doc!

  11. avatar
    Benji Franklin June 19, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I live on a heavily wooded seven plus acre outlying suburban lot, so incinerating solutions are convenient for me to use. I have needed to get rid of over a dozen hard drives and have developed a routine which my wife and I get a few laughs out of going through.

    After a ritualistic ruse involving bringing the unmolested hard drive near my face in an apparent attempt to examine it closely, I instead gratuitously utter a few indelicate condemning accusations indicating that I suspect it has already betrayed, or is about to betray my confidence in its loyalty to me, and that consequently I feel compelled to eliminate that threat by making the information that I trusted it to contain, irretrievable in a way that will do only necessary physical damage to the unit. I open up the drive case by removing screws. Then I place the drive case and all on top of about 4 layers of charcoal inside a charcoal starting chimney that I use with my grille. I cover it then with a few more layers of charcoal, and use a few newspaper wad balls under it to get the charcoal burning. It is in a shallow stainless steel oil-changing catch pan far from anything flammable.

    Then I get away and do something else or read, and observe it periodically from a safe upwind distance for the next 30 minutes or so. The whole drive/case glows red, the platters shrink-melt and disappear in spots, but blessedly, the drive never cries out.

    When it cools off, I duct tape the drive alternately flat and edgewise atop a small (30 lb) steel anvil, and begin to massage the case with many heavy blows from a 5 lb sledge hammer. This step is not necessary, but I believe the mangling of the remains puts an end to the suffering, and it can be quite exhilarating if done in complete disregard for the beat of loudly played marshall (military marches) music, while a particularly loved one looks on and cheers.

    I throw the remains into the local computer waste collection bin, and defy anyone except a deranged (read that as “any”) Birther to claim they could report what info was on it. Of course, a Birther would just make something up, I think.

  12. avatar
    Slartibartfast June 19, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Another question that might be of use in this procedure is will it blend?.

  13. avatar
    Notorial Dissent June 19, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    Well, as we now know from most of the birfers, making it up as they go along is the preferred method to actually do research. Saves uncovering all those nasty inconvenient facts and contradictions that just blow all hell out of the current pet theory/fantasy. In their world a really good fantasy beats a cold hard fact any day, in their world, the rest not so much.

  14. avatar
    justlw June 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    Wikipedia, as you might expect, has a very thorough article on “data remanance“.

    One of the things it notes is something I had heard only recently, which is that any claims of recovering “wiped” data from a modern drive amounts to “urban legend,” as they put it. The comparison they use is the notorious Rose Mary Woods 18-1/2 minute gap, with the expert at hand claiming that recovering the audio from that (which has proven impossible to date) would be trivial in comparison to the task of recovering digital data that had been erased by even only one pass.

    However, I think physical destruction techniques are still quite valuable — first of all, if the drive has failed, you can’t actually perform a standard erase. Second, more and more nonvolatile solid state components are being used, and frankly I don’t think anyone has any idea what can or cannot considered to be assuredly erased from such devices.

    If you’re going to destroy a drive, do try to find some kids to share the experience with. I’ve done this with my own kids, as well as at a couple of their Cub Scout den meetings. Great fun and education all around. (“This is why we call it ‘spinning rust’ … .”)

    On a tangential note: the real challenge these days is the selective destruction of data from a device. On any reasonably sophisticated file system, “deleting” a file may actually erase very little of the file data — it just marks the chain of data blocks as available for re-use. Plus, over the life of the file, any of its data blocks may have previously been freed-and-not-erased, leaving bits of it scattered all over its host media.

    Changing this behavior would cause serious performance hits, so that’s not going to happen. Thus, the only two ways you can make sure a file is unrecoverable once erased is to either trash the entire disk (by completely wiping or destroying it), or by encrypting all your data from the start. A freed encrypted data block would be completely unrecoverable without the encryption key.

  15. avatar
    gorefan June 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    Is splitting the hard drive case with a maul on a concrete driveway safe?

  16. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 19, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    gorefan:
    Is splitting the hard drive case with a maul on a concrete driveway safe?

    For the hard drive or the driveway?

  17. avatar
    sfjeff June 19, 2014 at 4:34 pm #

    gorefan: Is splitting the hard drive case with a maul on a concrete driveway safe?

    I was thinking the same thing. Clearly an OSHA violation.

    Put that hard drive on a piece of 2 x 8 or 1/2″ plywood- then apply maul.

    I

  18. avatar
    sfjeff June 19, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    Now I have an inspiration for what to do when I retire….

  19. avatar
    Benji Franklin June 19, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    justlw: However, I think physical destruction techniques are still quite valuable

    Yeah, there is a certainty that comes with seeing all of the Platters glowing bright red! However, unlike the original group, they don’t sing anything but Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

  20. avatar
    James M June 19, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    We use Iron Mountain for destroying institutional quantities of hard drives. Once per quarter they come around with a shredder van. It’s fun. The machine shreds the drives as fast as you can fill the hopper.

  21. avatar
    RanTalbott June 19, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    gorefan: Is splitting the hard drive case with a maul on a concrete driveway safe?

    You’ll definitely get small chunks of various materials flying in unpredictable directions at possibly-injurious speeds. I wouldn’t dream of doing it without goggles, and I don’t even bother wearing them when doing metalwork on a lathe or drill press (I do wear glasses, though, every time. And sometimes googles, when cutting metal with power saws. It’s all about the odds of something nasty coming from a given direction).

    Personally, I always disassemble hard drives before destroying them: they’re a great source of high-power magnets.

  22. avatar
    Whatever4 June 19, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    Slartibartfast:
    Another question that might be of use in this procedure is will it blend?.

    Or will it shred?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbmYJ61FSCw

    I love this site… they own huge industrial shredders and shred all kinds of things, from paper and boxes to bowling balls, twinkies, and decorated Christmas trees.

    http://www.ssiworld.com/watch/

  23. avatar
    Whatever4 June 19, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    What was Mrs. C’s reaction to your antics?

  24. avatar
    CarlOrcas June 19, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Whatever4:
    What was Mrs. C’s reaction to your antics?

    I suspect she took the pictures….right after she made sure the premiums were paid on his life insurance!!

  25. avatar
    Keith June 19, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

    Slartibartfast:
    Another question that might be of use in this procedure is will it blend?.

    Of course it will.

    Anything will blend if you have the right blender.

  26. avatar
    JPotter June 19, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    Whatever4:
    What was Mrs. C’s reaction to your antics?

    Any neighbors come watch?

  27. avatar
    Georgetown JD June 19, 2014 at 11:30 pm #

    LOL, Doc. I love your sense of humor.

    The Politico article is factually wrong, because it is reporting (without fact checking) Sen. Orrin Hatch’s statement about the “recycling” of Ms. Lerner’s hard drive. The story is a prime example of GIGO — Sen. Hatch, alas, is a bit confuzzled. It was not the hard drive that was recycled, but rather, the backup tapes to the agency’s servers that were recycled.

    According to the stories reported in less partisan news outlets, the agency’s letter last week (to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate committees authorized to receive confidential IRS data without redaction) advised the gentlemen that the hard drive was recently sent to the lab of the agency’s Criminal Investigation Division for another effort to retrieve the data — also unsuccessful. Sen. Hatch’s statement that the device was “recycled” is at odds with numerous media reports that the hard drive was so damaged that two separate efforts in the course of three years to recover the data on it have failed. The most detailed coverage of this story is found at the New York Times and NPR — both of which the conspiracy crowd distrusts.

    For those who are interested, TIGTA released a report today that details the procedures employed to erase the data on computers before they are reassigned to another employee or retired from service. The IRS participates in a Federal program to donate retired IT assets to schools and charitable organizations.

  28. avatar
    Georgetown JD June 19, 2014 at 11:39 pm #

    Slartibartfast:
    Another question that might be of use in this procedure is will it blend?.

    Yes. Blenders have come a long way since the 1976 model Bassomatic.

  29. avatar
    Suranis June 20, 2014 at 4:43 am #

    I’m Sorry, that Hard drive is fake, too many layers.

    (Ok ok SOMEONE had to make the obvious joke)

  30. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 20, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    That was frankly a surprise to me, that all the tapes were recycled after 6 months. I know that backup tapes are routinely recycled, but I would have thought that some archival copy would be retained longer than that.

    Georgetown JD: Sen. Hatch, alas, is a bit confuzzled. It was not the hard drive that was recycled, but rather, the backup tapes to the agency’s servers that were recycled.

  31. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 20, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    “That’s great bass!”

    Sorry, it was necessary.

    Georgetown JD: 1976 model Bassomatic.

  32. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 20, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    The removal of loose-fitting outer clothing is for safety.

    Smirk4Food: I notice that you were in shirt sleeves when you did this demonstration. Can I presume it was done on a casual Friday?

  33. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 20, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    Maybe I should Photoshop a pair on.

    Keith: You forgot your safety gloves during step number two

  34. avatar
    JPotter June 20, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Dr. Conspiracy: The removal of loose-fitting outer clothing is for safety.

    As we have learned, layers are always suspicious. Being compromised of a single layer is an ironclad guarantee of authenticity.

    I’d hate to think a forged Doc C was running around, ‘recycling’ your hard drives!

  35. avatar
    Crustacean June 20, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    That’s what I’d tell the Bird Boy of Birferstan to do, if I could slip a comment past the goalie.

    Dr. Conspiracy:
    Maybe I should Photoshop a pair on.

  36. avatar
    Benji Franklin June 20, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    Crustacean: That’s what I’d tell the Bird Boy of Birferstan to do, if I could slip a comment past the goalie.

    Here’s what Birdboy has been reduced to in the last hour or so:
    He comments at BR:

    “Hey, lookie, it’s just my opinion, but Taitz should do MILF porn. She’ll make more people happier that way. I know of no one that is convinced that she’s a competent attorney.”

    Birdboy must have a stiff lower lip because he adds a line later, “By the way, still take you to lunch Orly, my treat.”

    Orly, if you’re having someone read this for you, I’m seriously afraid Birdboy is using “my treat” as an affectionate noun of direct address.

    None of us want to see your Dental Chair of Love used in a way that voids its warranty and that includes beast reality. And do you really want its lingering scent of Chucky LInkin’ the Thurd to be fowled up by Birdboy?

    Report

  37. avatar
    Dr. Conspiracy June 21, 2014 at 7:16 am #

    The Moro Islamic Liberation Front does porn?

    Benji Franklin: Quoting Falcon “Hey, lookie, it’s just my opinion, but Taitz should do MILF porn. …”

  38. avatar
    Benji Franklin June 21, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    Dr. Conspiracy: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front does porn?

    Well, now we know that even if BirdBrain is the only FLAPPING wing-nut over there, apparently, should we choose to believe his oblique high-T claim, if you build a smut emporium, the ENTIRE Birther Flock will cum ((sic) sick (sic)) !