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Erasing hard drives without a computer?
September 22, 2012 7:55 AM   Subscribe

How does one erase an internal hard drive when said drive is no longer hooked up to a computer and you don't have access to another computer? Then what's the best way to dispose of the drives?

The drives are from old Mac towers, PowerPC G4s and G5s and still have sensitive information on them.The computers themselves have been dismantled, so you can't just reboot start up the drives and erase them. There are not other computers, not even PCs to place them in. All the Macs I have access to are laptops. An external hard drive enclosure could be purchased, but it's a lot of drives, between 15-20, so not quite practical, though doable, if there are no other ideas.

1. Is there a quick way to ensure the drives are erased, without having to book them from a computer, like say a powerful magnet?

2. Once the drives are erased, what's the most ecologically sound way to get rid of them?
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just take them to a commerical electronic waste disposal company, any reputable service will shred them into little bits before recycling them. If they contain information that would bankrupt you or put you in jail, ask the company to shred them in front of you.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:58 AM on September 22, 2012


It's not hard, with the right screwdrivers, to disassemble the drives and take the platters out, at which point you can physically destroy them yourself. Wood chipper, lawn mower, .38 special... You can easily make them too much trouble to even attempt recovery on just by breaking them.
posted by fatbird at 8:03 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


A power drill will go a long way toward making the drives unusable. A data recovery shop might still be able to extract information, but mere mortals won't have any ability to do so.

Last hard drive I disassembled turned out to have glass platters. Unrecoverable was a dead simple objective in that case!
posted by davidpriest.ca at 8:09 AM on September 22, 2012


I use one of these when I'm working with multiple drives. You may need a serial version?

It's a cheap, it's handy, it ships free.
posted by MansRiot at 8:10 AM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Big Ass Hammer Method (BAHM) is pretty easy.
posted by The Deej at 8:11 AM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


How sensitive is sensitive? If it's covered by PCI or some other contractual level of "we will be secure" agreement, you may have to reach certain levels of "erased" to meet the agreements.

On the other hand, if this is regular old unregulated levels of sensitive and you're not worried about a major government dedicating lots of time to trying to extract it, then just beat the shit out of it with a chisel until the platters are substantially deformed and scratched. Most drives I've found need torx bits to disassemble, but if you've got them (or if it's from a mac, which last I checked seemed to use phillips for most screws), then take it apart and you get some great strong magnets and can scrape up the platters or turn them into clock backings or something.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:15 AM on September 22, 2012


Those are probably some ancient version of SCSI which Mac Pro's no longer use, and very few computers do, so the power drill method mentioned above is probably the easiest.
posted by fragmede at 8:16 AM on September 22, 2012


There are not other computers, not even PCs to place them in. All the Macs I have access to are laptops. An external hard drive enclosure could be purchased, but it's a lot of drives, between 15-20, so not quite practical, though doable, if there are no other ideas.

Probably not the right tool for the job in this particular case, but an IDE/SATA to USB adapter is good for these kinds of situations. They are cheap and it only takes a few seconds to hook up a drive and have it recognized by your laptop. I always keep one around in case I need to do some unexpected hard drive maintenance.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:24 AM on September 22, 2012


Thermite thermite thermite! (Or maybe send them to Adam Savage, they can do a show on Blowing Up Data.)
posted by DarlingBri at 8:28 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


NIST 800-88 is the preeminent standards document for hard disk drive destruction.

A power drill through the platters is sufficient for all but the best-funded nation-states, though.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:53 AM on September 22, 2012


It's easy to take the drive apart and break the platters. Don't do it inside - they break into a lot of tiny sharp little shreds At least mine did..
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 9:04 AM on September 22, 2012


Thermite's great stuff, but it blares out very bright UV, so don't expose your skin or your eyes to the light. But since it will be cool to watch, you should capture some good video, or watch it through protective measures.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:55 AM on September 22, 2012


davidpriest.ca writes "A power drill will go a long way toward making the drives unusable. A data recovery shop might still be able to extract information, but mere mortals won't have any ability to do so."

Ya you can drill a hole through the platters of a hard drive faster than you can initiate the wipe using a dock. Like maybe 20 seconds a piece. Use a drill bit in the 3/16" -> 3/8" range as they have a large enough diameter to resist breaking from off axis pressure but are still small enough to drill holes fast. Some cutting fluid will prolong the life of the bit (even when drilling with a handheld) and cool off the chips. I use Bio-Cut spray; available at industrial supply outlets.
posted by Mitheral at 11:05 AM on September 22, 2012




I always take mine apart and take out the permanent magnets inside. They're extremely strong....like dangerously keep-your-fingers-out-of-the-way strong. then you can just scratch up the platters with a nail or something.
posted by rocket88 at 11:58 AM on September 22, 2012


yeah I'm gonna back up what everyone else said. physically assault them with your weapon/tool of choice. it was the first time I had actually taken a drive apart, so it was a good learning experience to see all the parts. and then I broke all the parts with hammers and a baseball bat.
posted by ninjew at 1:29 PM on September 22, 2012


Well, I've done almost all these methods. Thermite was a hoot, though it struck me as needlessly dangerous. The drill method worked great. The sledgehammer method was actually the easiest. I just pulled out a 20lb sledge and nailed each drive 2-3 times on concrete. By the 3rd strike, the housing was nearly half the original height and you could hear all the broken platters inside like glassware. However, the funnest way was to take them out to a friend's farm and put 3-4 rounds of .303 and .223 into each one. Standard jacketed rounds. Cheap and easy. The Enfield rounds nearly destroyed them with one shot each. After I put a couple of rounds into each one, not even God could bring them back.
posted by damiano99 at 6:38 PM on September 22, 2012


Previously.
posted by aqsakal at 12:17 AM on September 23, 2012


Right, I take apart old drives from my office and really get some fun/utility out of the magnets. I used them to make throwies for my wedding!
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:29 AM on September 24, 2012


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