Holiday Hackit: Automated Hard Drive Destruction

One of our recent posts took an interesting tangent: physical hard drive destruction. First, [wolf] wanted to use a 20ga shotgun shell on his hard drive. [brk] suggests an electromagnet applied to the drive while it’s still spinning. Everyone thought thermite might be interesting… Finally, [wolf] noted this commercial auto destruction drive that floods itself with an acid mist. I’ll suggest a few ideas and let you guys take it from there.

I’d suggest pneumatic injection of two part epoxy into the drive mechanism. Remove the top of the casing using the diy clean room method, add a port for the epoxy and use a cheap CO2 bike injector to force the liquid into the drive on demand.

So, got a better idea? Let’s hear it.

163 thoughts on “Holiday Hackit: Automated Hard Drive Destruction

  1. Why not put a little C4 in there? Some plastic explosive will do the job nicely. Maybe that acid burns off the raised portions of the disc so it reads as blank… That would be nice instead of destroying the drive, albeit extremely hard to pull off.

  2. put in a solenoid injected syringe of mercury. Should dissolve the surface of the platter and leave a nasty surprise for whoever you were trying to hide your data from, when they open it. Would say a glass vial which gets crushed by the solenoid for old school school style, but theres too much potential for loss if the drive ever gets dropped.

  3. The easiest/cheapest way I can think of is vibrating the hard drive with strong vibrations over some amount of time. I’m not sure how long it takes to erase the whole thing. Someone find out.

  4. Something that sets a large amount of strong epoxy (or molten lead) onto the platters when something is tripped seems a good idea. Or resin, or metal shavings, or maybe house current across the platters, or a strong acid that dissolves the ferromagnetic coating on the platters, or dropping a MIG welding tip onto the spinning drive while active, or…

  5. Epoxy wouldn’t do much good. It’d stop you running the HDD, but wouldn’t destroy the data. A forensic examiner could simply remove the platters and insert them into an identical drive and read the data off (barring iny drive-specific encryption, in which case some ship re-soldering would be required. In any case, the data is still in a readable state).

  6. I’m thinking scrappy was probably right about piercing method, ie, if you can just punch a whole through the platters, the recovery would become too costly for all but the most valuable data. This could be done easily by sharpening the point of a small piston, fixing it to the top of the drive, and filling it with some gun powder.

    Of course, the same idea could be implemented with thermite, since dab about the size of a penny would probably be enough to melt through the aluminum top and burn a hole through the platters. But not enough to burn through the rest of the drive and case.

    Once nice thing about thermite is its cheap and commonly available.

    You could light it either with a magnesium powder starter, or by mixing it with potasium permanganate (definitely misspelled) then adding glycerin, which will react with the potassium permanganate and spontaneously combust at high temperature, setting off the thermite.

    If I have some time once my college apps are done, I may put together a video testing this out.

    Also, about frying the drive with a battery, all that would be fried is the controller hardware, so the data could be recovered by replacing the controller or moving the platters to a new drive.

  7. step 1) do soemthing illegal so that the feds have a reason to come after you and or your computer

    step 2) wait for suspicious knock on the door and verify with security camera visuals as to if it is the men in the blck suits

    step 3) ignite the magnesium ribbon you have connected to a electrical igniter which is connected to a saftey toggle switch and stand the hell back while a few grams of thermite eats your computer as you throw it out the back window of your house.

  8. A while back I read that taking a nice electric drill with a large bit (quarter inch or larger), then just drill a few holes right through.

    Otherwise, my dad has a really old “nail gun” that actually works like a gun. It has a gun powder-filled shell, but instead of a bullet, it fires a nail. The device is designed for nailing things into concrete, but I’m thinking it’d blast some nice holes right through the drive. Plus, it’s fun!

  9. flash freeze the drive while it is still in operation by enclosing the drive in a freezer box (battery powered thermocouples that activate upon power failure) combined with a nitrous-oxide bottle or freon charge bottle for fastest results. You would then need to include in the case a solenoid activated hammer to smash the platter when it is frozen so that no data would be recoverable.

    Now reality must sink in, any drive platter no matter what the damage can have its data recovered by oblique lazer scan this process was used to recover 90% data from disks that were mangled during 9/11
    Twin Tower collapse.

    No method for HD destruction can truly be effective unless you can reduce the platters to less than 20% of the original surface mass while totally reoranizing the magnetic tracks obliterating all information entirely.

    Forensic data recovery has recovered platters that have been acid etched burned exploded and crushed

    It is all just a matter of how bad the purchasers
    of forensic recovery are willing to expend financial and other resources to gain access to the data in question.

    Deep pockets will always find a way to learn what was
    hidden or destroyed as long as that destruction is not 100% complete.

  10. If you don’t have a lot of money, but you live in a high-rise. Hang your hard disk out the window, with nothing to hold onto it but the SATA cable. Then cover the hard disk with a protective lubricated condom, to keep the drive safe from rain and snow.

    If anyone grabs for the hard disk, the SATA cable will disconnect, and the protective lubricated condom would make the drive too difficult to hold. Thus the drive will plummet 50 stories to it’s destruction.

  11. I would have to vote for simpler means of data destruction..

    1. Immerse said drive in LN2.. drop (or smash against) and drive should be no more..

    2. Drill a small hole and add about an 1/8th teaspoon of carbide dust (think diamond grit) and power up drive. You may be able to use one of the ‘covered’ vent holes (the ones that say ‘removal voids warranty’)

    3. Usually a good physical impact of the drive (flat side) against a hard floor (ie. concrete) will provide enough force to render the drive un-readable (by conventional means). I’ve even heard of some drive platters shattering under this type of impact. (could probably build a machine to do this)

    4. Place desired drive to be ‘destructed’ into a fire.. (outdoors and/or well ventilated) eventually the Al should melt (if hot enough) and the platters de-magnetize..

    5. (this one’s not so simple, but it would be awesome) Perfom specialized high-impact projectile testing and record high-speed images. (why? Because it would be sweet.. I’ve been in the lab listed first on that page. Good stuff)

    6. Finally (I’m sure I’ll think of more later) why not just fill the drive with black powder and set it off with some good ‘ol cannon fuse? (similar to anvil blasting.. only I’m sure it’d be better.. might want a good shield for shrapnel)..

  12. Use a powerful degausser – at its simplest, just a large coil of wire around a core connected to an AC source. This method effectively flip the bits hundreds of times a second. After a quick check it seems commercial variants that are NSA / DoD approved so they must be relatively effective against modern recovery techniques. The most effective version of this would be one where the coil had a letterbox shaped slot in the centre for the hard drive.

    If hard drive companies wanted to introduce ‘self destructing’ hard drives they could simply design a physical kill switch on the controller board. When this is set to ‘destroy’ and power is applied, it automatically starts writing random data over the platters. The distinguishing feature of this process could be that the power applied to the coil on the heads would be much greater than usual – as much as they could dissipate continuously.

    It is unlikely epoxy would be an effective deterrant – most epoxy resins can be softened / dissolved.

  13. We had a bunch of drives left when we moved offices all full of name and address info, so we left 2 member of senior management with a center punch, a small funnel, a bottle of full fat coke and a UPS battery rigged up to a molex adapter. They sat there and quite happily made candy floss for a few hours.

  14. Step 1.) Stick a neodymium iron boron rare earth magnet on top of the drive and let it sit for 1-5 min.

    Step 2.) Flash freeze the drive, using preferred method of freezing

    Step 3.) Sandwich between explosives, what ever you have around, then blow it up.

    If all goes well all of the magnetic data on the platters will be wiped, additionally there should be about 100,000+ pieces of HDD scattered about your yard.

  15. i ignited some thermite on an old hard drive of mine, wasn’t really doing it to wipe the data, more to see what the thermite would do to it.. it melted through pretty well, course that was also the time i was dumb enough to try to pick it up right after the thermite went out.. got 2 fairly big blisters almost instantly…

  16. There’s always this:

    (Down near the IDE killer)

    you could always turn the HD into an HD speaker, but also wire the audio to the write head, then (theoretically) when sound is played, you randomly rewrite the data on the disk, then use any form of destruction you wish. Like attach the platters to something like a router to skill saw, then spin it up until it reaches centripetal instability and shatters, or just slam it into something at high speed…

  17. i think thermite works the best, a thermite grenade would totaly ruin the drive and be easy to trigger, but for the average person, i guess total drive encryption, and somehow destroying the chip that holds the encryption /decryption key would make the data unrecoverable

  18. You could just take low level control of the drive and magnetically wipe it down, off track and otherwise, then reformat for another use.

    If you were really paranoid you could seal the drive and pump all of the air out of it, then rig a vial of liquid tritium to blow off inside should your stuff get seized.

  19. I don’t think epoxy is a good idea, because that could potentially be dissolved and leave the platters intact. also, any idea dumping current into the drive controller simply fries that part, and doesn’t affect the platters either.

    if you know they aren’t going to cut the power, maybe keep your drives on eSATA inside a microwave, which turns on either remotely or tied to a dead man switch or house alarm.

    if you want a solution that works after they cut the power, mod the drives with dissolvable plugs or windows, and use solenoid mounts to hold the drives suspended over a bath of acid or other substance you know will eat the magnetic surface. if the power goes out, the drives drop into the acid bath.

  20. Destroying a hard drive…

    Hmm… well, assuming the idea is to destroy the data beyond all recognition, you’ll pretty much have to annihilate the magnetic disk. I like the thermite idea, but if it were me, I’d want the damage to be as localized as possible, so I can recover the rest of the computer. Suppose… a butane torch, aimed directly at the disk… or a plasma torch. I’d test it first to see if it worked, though, before relying on it to protect the evidence- I mean, top-secret documents… or whatever.

    Just remember, if you can cut it apart, they can put it back together. Burning or melting is a lot harder to reverse.

    Something else you could do is get a thin metal beam with teeth, then lower it ont the platter so it shreds it. As long as your data wasn’t *too* valuable, that’d deter everyone except the NSA.

  21. How long does it take to erase a hard-drive the normal way? If the battery can last long enough you could power the hard drive and fill it with random data through IDE. Much less destructive or toxic, but not exactly a perfect method since you have to hope that the thief does not rip off the battery before the erasing is done.

  22. A very simple and effective destruction method is to use a horizontally mounted bandsaw. I bought such a band saw for around $200.

    Gravity does a lot of the work so it is safer then a lot of other methods. The band saw also works for tapes and stacks of floppy disks. For CD and DVD I use a shredder designed to handle optical media.

    A pleasant surprise was that it is rarely necessary to cut all the way through the drive, or even half way. When setting the blade to cut slightly off center of the axis the platters usually shatter and only a cut of about an inch is needed.

    So, for less than $300 one can get all the hardware needed for media ‘sanitizing’.

  23. I once set up a 1 GB hard drive in a linux server with some M80s wired to a model rocket engine starter that was triggered when a relay was tripped by a signal from the COM port. I had a simple shell script to take care of it. I ended up using it once. Quite interesting.

  24. the problem here is what you want to do.
    I see two categories:
    1:destroy datat when you have time and want to get rid of it.
    2:destroy when someone busts down your door and you need the data removes quick.
    If you want option 1, its easy…
    option 2 needs more thought…

  25. didnt see it… but what about a small electro magnet in the hdd case itself?… not the most secure way but if setup with minimum um… noticable wires hanging out of it maybe it would go unnoticed long enough from a theif that stole the whole computer… or if you just needed a slow wipe or something? *shurgs* just what i thought of…

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