July 07, 2015

Magnets and Other Myths: The Facts About How to Destroy a Hard Drive

Can a magnet destroy a hard drive inside a PC?

A few years ago, a technology expert at Forbes.com responded to a reader who had dropped a fridge magnet on his hard drive and wondered if it could do damage. The expert reported that a really strong magnet (with a pull force of at least 450 pounds, so not anything like the type attached to a fridge magnet), could indeed harm a hard drive. But that kind of force would be dangerous, he said, and it was not recommended.

For a business, of course, what’s most important is the confidential data that is stored on hard drives and other electronic devices such as smart phones, laptops, and tablets.

Here are some facts and myths about hard drives and e-media security – and protecting confidential data in the workplace.

Magnets are old news.
The misconceptions about magnets likely stemmed from old electronic devices such as CRT monitors and televisions that were susceptible to magnetic fields, according to a money.cnn.com article. “Most modern electronics like our smart phones are not going to be adversely affected by small magnets”.

Magnets don’t destroy data.
The CNN article included an interview with a company that placed large magnets on either side of a running hard drive, but the files on the drive remained 100% intact.

Formatting a hard drive doesn’t completely erase a hard drive.
A ground-breaking study by two MIT graduate students tested 158 used disk drives and even though 60% of the disks were formatted before they were sold, the students were able to access information with forensic software programs. They recovered more than 5,000 credit card numbers, medical records and other personal information on the used hard drives. How to wipe a hard drive? It’s not an easy task.

Recycling hard drives is a risk.
While some companies stockpile old hard drives, others recycle them – and both practices increase the risk of a data breach. A 2014 National Association for Information Destruction (NAID) study in Australia showed that about 30% of 52 recycled hard drives that were randomly purchased from sources such as eBay still contained confidential information.

Smart phones contain confidential data too.
Another Australian study undertaken at the BT Centre for Information and Security Systems Research showed that 160 used Blackberry devices purchased from online-auction sites still contained sensitive company and personal information including salary details, financial company data and personal medical details. Smart phones are now considered standard equipment for the ever-increasing mobile workforce.

To protect confidential information on hard drives and other electronic devices and to be compliant with privacy laws, organizations today need to have a document management policy that includes secure disposal of information too. Hard drive and e-media destruction is the only 100 percent secure way to destroy data on hard drives permanently.

Experts recommend partnering with a reliable document destruction company that has a secure chain of custody and proper equipment processes for crushing and destroying outdated hardware drives and other electronic media. The e-media disposal process should include a log of manufacturer name and serial number for each device and an itemized Certificate of Destruction.

To identify other security risks in your workplace, here is a do-it-yourself security risk assessment. You can also learn more about how Shred-it can help protect your information.