Exclusive: How to secure data on retired hard drives

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There comes a time in every business’s life cycle when you need to dispose of old hard drives. Your old drives may be full, or you may be retiring them to introduce newer storage systems. Regardless of your reasons for discarding a hard drive, it’s essential that you do so securely.

While you may no longer use these old drives, they could still hold valuable, sensitive data. Since you won’t likely secure these outdated disks the same way you do your current systems, they can be a tempting target for cybercriminals. Whenever you retire a hard drive, you must secure its data. Here are four ways you can do that.

Wipe data from the drive

When many people think of securing retired hard drives, they think of wiping them. Since hackers can still recover erased files, simply deleting the disk’s contents is insufficient. Wiping is a more thorough process, making the data virtually inaccessible while resetting the drive to its factory settings.

Both Windows and Mac operating systems have built-in features that can wipe hard drives for you. You can also find third-party apps, some free and some paid, that may wipe data more effectively or provide extra features. For example, some can also clone your disks so you can create backups before wiping the data.

Shred your drive

Wiping your hard drives will keep your data safe from most cybercriminals, but skilled hackers may still be able to recover it. If you work with highly sensitive data, you may want to consider a more foolproof method like shredding. Shredding physically destroys the drive, making it 100% effective at rendering the data inaccessible.

There are two standards for hard drive shredding: crushing and shearing. Crushing relies on force to punch through the drive platter, while shearing uses a machine similar to a paper shredder to slice the disk into pieces. Both of these methods are among the most effective for securing old drives, but you’ll need a third party to perform them.

Encrypt the disk

If you’d rather recycle your old hard drives instead of destroying them, you can secure their data through encryption. Reliable recycling companies will dispose of your disks safely, but it’s best to ensure additional protection as well. Before taking your drives to a recycling centre, make sure to encrypt the entire disk, not just individual files.

Depending on your business, you may already have encryption tools on hand that you can use. If not, there are many data encryption tools available, both paid and free. There’s no single answer to which software is best, but look for full-disk encryption and preferably multiple layers of encryption.

Disassemble the hard drive

A fourth and final option for securing retired hard drives is physically disassembling them. Disassembly protects the data on the disk similarly to how shredding does, but you don’t need a third party to do it. While you don’t need industrial machinery like shearers, you will likely need a specialised set of screwdrivers.

Take off the cover to expose the disk itself, which you can then destroy through various methods. The simplest is to scratch it repeatedly with your screwdriver, but using a strong magnet to demagnetize it may be more effective. However, keep in mind that disassembly is time-consuming and may not be as thorough as professional shredding.

Minimise threats from retired hard drives

Since retired hard drives are no longer a part of your system, many people don’t think of them as security risks. Despite these appearances, retired disks can still pose a threat to your business, requiring your attention.

When it comes time to dispose of old drives, use one or more of these methods to keep the data safe. If you take the time to render information on old drives inaccessible, you can upgrade your storage securely.

Devin Partida is a technology writer and the Editor-in-Chief of the digital magazine, ReHack.com. To read more from Devin, check out the site.

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