SIGNAL CONNECTIONS E-newsletter August 15, 2005
Hard drive disposal has become a hot topic over the past few years for both the defense community and the private sector. As personal computers advance and older units become obsolete, disposal of sensitive information still left on the hard drive is of serious concern. For most companies simply throwing the computers or drives away is not an option. Some choose to “erase” the drive with either software or degaussing equipment, but experts agree that the process is not always 100% effective. The best way to be certain that important information is not accessible after disposal is to physically destroy the hard drive. Current methods for destruction or defacing prior to disposal can be effective but are often primitive and labor intensive. They include everything from drilling, crushing or removing the platter for sanding or grinding. Recently, at the request of several customers, SEM began developing machines to destroy entire hard drives, by turning them into an unrecognizable pile of shredded material.
Through testing several combinations, exploring alternate materials and working out safety concerns, we enhanced two of our current disintegrators (industrial shredders) to successfully destroy hard drives. The process is actually very simple. Drives are placed into one of our disintegrators and are continually shredded until the particles are small enough to pass through a waste disposal screen. The unrecognizable, unreconstructable waste can then be disposed without fear of information theft. This type of one-step destruction is viable and cost-effective for many companies. However, as in all forms of destruction, understanding the process and knowing the requirements is the key to success.
Limitations/Maintenance – One-step destruction does have limitations and maintenance associated with it. There are limitations on drive size (1 ½ lbs. case weight), volume (drives fed per hour) and collection capacity depending on the method chosen. Maintenance includes periodic blade sharpening, lubrication and replacement of consumable items, all determined by amount of use and volume. None of these items alone or combined are deterrents but must be factored into the cost and overall maintenance budget.
Understanding How the Disintegrator Works – The disintegrator or industrial shredder is a rotary knife mill, which uses a number of rotating and stationary knives working in unison to create a scissor-type cutting action. The level to which the product is cut or broken up is determined by an interchangeable sizing screen. Screens are available with various hole sizes, which allows the end user to tailor the final particle size to their requirements of security. Once the product is destroyed and passed through the sizing screen, it falls into a tote bin or larger collection device (drum, cart, or dumpster).
Going Beyond the Hard Drive – Once we had perfected hard drive destruction, we in the destruction community were faced with another challenge. It seems the process of opening all the computer cases and removing all the hard drives was becoming a burden to the folks charged with sending us the drives. It may seem like a small thing, but many older tower computers may require as many as 10 screws to be removed before a drive can be taken out. The procedure could take several minutes. In response to demands to simplify the process, we have developed a machine that will destroy an entire tower or desktop CPU with no need to open the case or remove any items. The dual-shaft design machine literally shreds them into 2” wide pieces at random lengths. The 2” particle size can be reduced even further, if desired, by running it through a disintegrator.
What About Cost? – The decision to purchase a system should not be based on cost, but on potential risk. For lower volumes, destruction services are an option. Even so, many companies simply cannot afford to purchase this equipment for the relatively small number of computers that need to be destroyed. In these cases, we recommend investigating a destruction service. At SEM we not only sell the equipment, but we maintain and operate a full-scale destruction facility. So, if you have old computers to dispose of, stop and think about the best way to do it. Destruction, specifically shredding, just might be the answer.
About the Author – Leonard Rosen is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Security Engineered Machinery. He has over 40 years of experience in the field of information security and destruction.