via Moak: Taking hammer to a hard drive?, clarionledger.com, 1/13/2016
In our garage is an old computer. Sadly, it sits there, collecting dust and awaiting its eventual fate. I can almost sense there is, deep down, a spark of life there, a wistful remembrance of when it was fresh and new, its Windows XP running smoothly and proudly taking on all programs. But that was a decade ago or so; now, its operating system is considered terribly outmoded; now, it’s just an echo of the past.
At one point, I had put it in my car (along with another obsolete machine), intending to take them to a recycling company. After procrastinating a week or so, hauling them everywhere I went, I finally had to remove them because I needed the space for groceries. I considered putting them by the curb for the trash, but I didn’t want to do that because the hard drive is intact, and besides, there are a lot of components that could be reused, and given that there are potentially harmful chemicals inside, it could damage the environment.
Last week, an article by Allstate Insurance Company caught my eye, leading with this sentence: “Banging a hammer against your hard drive: It’s not just a satisfying way to take out your extra aggression on a helpless piece of old technology.”
I had not considered using a hammer on the old machines, but, given the fact the hard drive still has some potentially useful information on it that could be used for identity theft, it’s one of several ways to make data unrecoverable. The Allstate article quotes the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which cautions us not to throw out an old hard drive before we make sure it can’t be used (it goes by the innocuous-sounding term of “sanitization”): Destruction of media is the ultimate form of sanitization. After media are destroyed, they cannot be reused as originally intended. Physical destruction can be accomplished using a variety of methods, including disintegration, incineration, pulverizing, shredding and melting.
The hammer idea — with its cathartic benefits — is explored in Allstate’s post, and even provides some things to consider if you take this route. However, destruction is just one of several methods discussed in the NIST publication. Alternatives include:
Disposal. This includes just throwing the device or storage media into the trash. While it is certainly the easiest, it’s also the most risky and environmentally unfriendly.
Clearing (overwriting): Keep in mind that, once something is saved on a computer, it doesn’t really go away. “Delete” sounds good, but it’s misleading. There are many programs out there to overwrite your files. It can be overwritten by something else but can sometimes be recoverable by someone with the right tools and knowledge.
Purging. This is done by using elaborate software or a device with a strong magnetic field (degaussing).
This particular NIST paper doesn’t delve deep into recycling, but it’s an alternative you should consider. You can Google computer recycling and contact a local company (there are several around central Mississippi.)
For further information, I checked with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, which has some recycling tips on its website. Here are a few of DEQ’s recommendations:
Consider the environment. Most computers contain some chemicals that could be hazardous, including lead, chromium, cadmium and mercury. Recycling the machine can keep these chemicals from entering landfills, and eventually, groundwater. Check with your city or county to see where you can dispose of old computers and components safely.
Donate it. DEQ suggests several possibilities. If the machine is running, it could be reused by schools, nonprofits or other organizations. But before you drop it off, make sure you take steps to “sanitize” it as discussed above, to make sensitive information unobtainable.
Repurpose it. With a little work and a few supplies, an old machine could be used to store old photos and videos, as a home security monitor, and for a hundred other things. Just because it’s old, noisy and slow doesn’t mean it has outlived its usefulness. CNET has this great article full of suggestions at http://www.cnet.com/how-to/5-great-uses-for-your-old-windows-computer/.