April 03, 2023

Avoid These 7 Common Blunders When Disposing of Your Old Hard Drives

A few years back, fans of the hit TV show Breaking Bad were shown a rather dramatic and exaggerated method for destroying a hard drive. The main character, Walter White, uses an enormous magnet to erase incriminating data stored on a laptop. Though this scene was entertaining, it painted a misleading picture of how one should properly dispose of old hard drives.

To help you avoid potential data breaches, we've compiled a list of 7 common mistakes to avoid when disposing of old hard drives. We'll also provide you with the best practices to ensure your sensitive information remains safe and secure.

The 7 Mistakes You Should Avoid When Disposing of Old Hard Drives

  1. Using magnets to destroy data: While magnets may have been effective in the past, modern hard drives are much more resistant to magnetic interference. Even if a magnet manages to corrupt the data, advanced technology may still be able to repair it.
  2. Erasing or wiping data: A study conducted by Blancco Technology Group found that special software can recover deleted data from used hard drives purchased online. In fact, personally identifiable information was recovered from 42% of the tested hard drives. Simply erasing or wiping the data is not enough to ensure it's gone for good.
  3. Formatting the hard drive: Similar to erasing data, formatting a hard drive doesn't guarantee that the information is completely removed. Kroll Ontrack explains that specialized software can often recover data from formatted drives, leaving your sensitive information at risk.
  4. Ignoring the problem: Confidential data on old hard drives remains a security risk as long as it exists. Companies of all sizes are targets for information thieves, and they have a legal obligation to comply with privacy laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), to protect the data of customers, employees, and the business itself.
  5. Storing old hard drives on-site: Many organizations lack a proper policy for hard drive destruction and end up stockpiling them in locked storage areas. However, even in secure storage, the information can still be accessed and stolen.
  6. Physically damaging the hard drive with a hammer or other tools: Although this method might work in theory, it is not suitable for a professional environment. All hard drives should be securely destroyed by a professional data destruction service that provides an official Certificate of Media Destruction for proper record-keeping.
  7. Recycling hard drives: Simply recycling hard drives does not guarantee that the information will not be accessed by thieves. Data security management must be an integral part of any recycling process. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), organizations should follow specific guidelines for the secure disposal of storage media to minimize the risk of data breaches.

The Right Way to Dispose of Old Hard Drives

The most effective and risk-free method for disposing of old hard drives is to have them physically destroyed by a professional hard drive and media destruction company. They will ensure that your obsolete digital data is permanently destroyed, keeping your sensitive information secure.

Make sure to choose a destruction partner that offers specialized shearing and crushing services. They should provide a secure chain of custody process with regular pick-up of hard drives and e-media by certified information security professionals. Companies like Shred-it are well-known for their secure data destruction services and can be trusted to handle your sensitive information with care.

In addition to professional destruction services, consider implementing a comprehensive data security policy within your organization. This policy should outline the steps for securely storing, handling, and disposing of sensitive information, including hard drives and other electronic media. Regular employee training on data security best practices and the importance of proper disposal methods can help minimize the risk of data breaches.

Additional Steps to Ensure Data Security

While professional hard drive destruction is the most secure method of disposal, there are other steps you can take to further protect your sensitive data:

Encrypt your data: Encrypting your hard drives adds an extra layer of security, making it more difficult for unauthorized individuals to access your data, even if they manage to recover it.

Use a data erasure software: Before disposing of your hard drives, consider using a reliable data erasure software, like DBAN or Blancco Drive Eraser, to overwrite the data multiple times. This makes it more challenging for data recovery tools to retrieve the information.

Keep an inventory of storage devices: Maintain an up-to-date record of all storage devices, including hard drives, within your organization. This ensures you are aware of their location and can manage their disposal appropriately.

Perform regular audits: Conduct regular audits to verify that your data security policies are being followed and identify any areas that may need improvement.

By following these best practices and avoiding common mistakes when disposing of old hard drives, you can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and protect your organization's sensitive information. It is crucial to stay informed about evolving data security practices and technologies, and to ensure that your company's policies and procedures are regularly updated to address new threats.

In conclusion, disposing of old hard drives securely is essential to protect your organization from data breaches and maintain compliance with privacy laws. Avoid common mistakes like using magnets, erasing or formatting data, and recycling hard drives without proper data security management. Instead, opt for professional hard drive destruction services and follow additional data security steps, such as encryption and regular audits. By taking these precautions, you can effectively safeguard your sensitive information and uphold your organization's reputation.

So how do you dispose of old hard drives the RIGHT way?

The best way to dispose of hard drives – and destroy obsolete digital data that is no longer needed – is to have them physically destroyed by a professional hard drive and media destruction company. This is the most effective and risk-free way to ensure information is permanently destroyed. 

Speak to your document shredding partner about specialized hard drive shearing and crushing services. It should provide a secure chain of custody process with regular pick-up of hard drives and e-media by certified information security professionals.