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GUEST ESSAY: The case for physically destroying — and not just wiping clean — old hard drives

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Cybersecurity poses a risk to all businesses.

Related: Biden moves to protect critical infrastructure

Dataprot reports that 59 percent of Americans have experienced cybercrime in the past. An estimate stated that $6 trillion worth of damage was caused by cybercrime in 2022, making it vital for businesses to securely destroy data.

Deleting information from a hard disk drive (HDD) is not enough. Hackers can recover data from physical drives, even when the information has been removed. When businesses have spent years building trust with customers, it is important to take the necessary precautions to protect data and the brand’s reputation by destroying data effectively.

Limits to wiping

Deleting files isn’t enough to keep data safe. With the right tools, hackers can retrieve deleted files. Depending on the operating system, there may be built-in tools to erase data. This is a quick and convenient method but third-party utilities offer a greater level of security.

DBAN is a free tool but is limited in its abilities, as it only works on hard drives and not solid-state drives (SSD). Working independent of the operating system (OS), DBAN can wipe the entire machine. This is important for any businesses upgrading their hardware to new technology, as it allows for the safe transfer of data before it is removed from old machines.

Other tools, such as CCleaner, require an upgrade to the premium version in order to fully wipe data, and cannot wipe the drive hosting the OS as this is where it will be installed.

Wiping data is a good method of protection, but destroying the hard drive is the safest option. This prevents any fragments of data from being retrieved from old drives.


Hard drives present a security liability. With increasingly large storage capacities, they are capable of holding hundreds of thousands of sensitive data files. Just as there are tools to wipe HDD, there are tools for thieves and criminals to extract information from the HDD.

Cybercrime statistics from Dataprot states that 60 million Americans have experienced identity theft, highlighting the importance of destroying data completely.

It isn’t simply a matter of data security. A data breach will cost a company vital revenue and client trust. Business reputation is at stake, as many of the top security breaches are widely publicized and remembered many years later, such as the Yahoo hack of 2013 where 3 billion accounts were compromised. More recently, there was the 2022 Crypto.com hack which saw $18 million of Bitcoin and a further $15 million of Ethereum.

With a global study from IBM estimating that the average data breach cost in 2021 was $4.24 million, it is important to protect data and destroy the hard drive.

Destruction options

Destroying a hard drive is the most effective way of ensuring data cannot be retrieved from it. While there are a number of methods that can be used to destroy hard drives, some are more effective than others.

Drilling. Using a hand drill or a hammer to drive a nail through the hard drive will destroy the platter. However, it is a time-consuming process and often not the most effective solution for those seeking to completely destroy a hard drive.

Degaussing. For businesses with a significant turnover of old hard drives, a degausser is an effective solution. Using magnetic forces, the data in the device is scrambled and cannot be read.

Shredding. Just as shredding has proven to be an effective method for destroying sensitive data on paper, HDD and SSD shredders are specialized machines designed to cut hard drives into smaller pieces, rendering the drive and data useless. For many in high-security environments, this is one of the best solutions.

Disintegrating. Another high-security option for data destruction is disintegration. Disintegrators slice hard drives into smaller particles, ensuring that the drive cannot be reassembled.

Many businesses consider themselves to hold data security at the heart of everything that they do. Combining a complete data wipe with the destruction of the hard drive ensures data integrity while keeping clients’ trust and protecting the business’ reputation. In a time when data is constantly at risk and under siege, this is more important than ever.

About the essayist: Kyle Mitchell is the Commercial Sales Director at Whitaker Brothers, which has over 75 years of experience delivering industry-leading data destruction and security equipment solutions. 

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