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How to completely and securely destroy your personal data

Destroying data completely and securely

Whereas maintaining your personal data is very important sometimes you need to destroy the data to maintain your secrecy. But you need to make sure that you destroy your personal data completely and securely. Since today’s systems assume that you want to preserve your data rather than destroy it they go to extra lengths to make sure that you don’t end up destroying it even by mistake. That is why it is very important when you’re getting rid of your personal data you make sure that you actually destroy it completely and securely.

In the contemporary world you store data in hard copy and soft copy. Hardcopy involves keeping your data printed on papers. Soft copy means keeping your data in digital video format. In whatever format you keep your data sometimes you need to destroy it so that it doesn’t fall into wrong hands. It’s not just personal data that sometimes you have to completely and securely destroy you sometimes also need to destroy business and industrial data. Listed below are a few methods you can employ in order to destroy your personal data completely and securely.

Shredding your hard drive

Yes, believe it or not, just as you get paper shredders you also get hard drive shredders. Put your hard drive into the shredder and it makes mincemeat of it. After that it is practically impossible to assemble back the hard drive and retrieve data from it.

Since a hard drive shredder may cost you lots of money and the cost doesn’t justify if you have to destroy one hard drive every year, there are many companies that provide hard drive shredding services. So you can send your hard drive to the shredding company in order to get it totally destroyed. If you’re really paranoid about shipping your information to another destination there are many companies that provide doorstep services. Call them up and they will bring their hard drive shredder to your premises and then shred your hard drive in front of you. In fact you can put your hard drive into the shredder with your own hands and actually see it turning into a mesh right in front of your eyes.

Disrupting the magnetic field of your hard drive (aka degaussing)

Although degaussing may not seem as drastic as shredding this is also a secure way of completely destroying your data. Information on your hard drive is stored and kept at one place by a magnetic force like a glue. The information is stored in bits and bytes with this magnetic glue as base. If you destroy this place all the bits and bytes get scattered and the sequence is permanently disrupted. It’s like arranging 100 marbles on a table in a particular sequence. Then you wildly shake the table and the entire sequence is destroyed. After that if somebody comes to that table there is no way to find in what sequence the marbles had been placed. The same happens with degaussing.

A degaussing machine is not as expensive as a hard drive shredder and you can keep it in your office if you have to occasionally destroy your data completely and securely.

Overwriting sectors that were previously occupied by your data

Sometimes don’t want to destroy the media but the information on it. Suppose you don’t want to destroy the hard drive and you would like to reuse it or resell it after securely erasing your information from it. Sometimes you rent or lease your hardware and when you plan to return it to its original owners you want to delete all the information without destroying the hardware.

How are deleted files retrieved? It is very easy actually. When you delete a file, on Windows for example, the file is not physically deleted. Even when you format a hard drive there are tools easily available that can retrieve the data that existed prior to the format process.

After the file is deleted in a normal way the space allocated to it is simply made available for overwriting in case that space is needed. So it is a matter of chance. The space made available by deleting a particular file may be overwritten immediately or it may take a couple of months for that to happen. There are some programs that immediately override the space left open after deleting the file. This way you can delete single files securely and completely without disturbing your hard drive’s magnetic field or shredding your hard drive altogether. There are many programs available online that can help you securely and completely delete individual bits of information.

Incinerating your hard drive

Personally I wouldn’t recommend this method just because it may produce lots of pollution. But there are some companies that prefer to incinerate or burn the hard drives rather than risking data leakage. Burning a hard drive is not as easy as throwing it in the fire. Different metals have different melting points so you may have to study what sort of heat would be required to completely melt or incinerate your hard drive.

All the methods mentioned above can be avoided if you keep your data encrypted from the beginning. Encryption algorithms are highly advanced these days and it may take anywhere between 16-25 million years for a supercomputer even to crack an averagely decent encryption. Although it is not as foolproof as shredding a hard drive or incinerating it, it is a sure shot way of keeping your data safe from prying eyes.