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. I still think the idea of acid or something else that will destroy the drive is good. Just wire it up to a button on your PC or something, if someone you dont like (e.g. FBI or whoever) comes knocking, press the button and by the time they get to the drive, its an unreadable pile of goop or whatever.

    Of course, then you get sent to pound me in the ass prison for “interfering with a federal investigation” or “illegal destruction of evidence” or some other such trumped-up charge.

  2. Or better yet, someone should invent “physical stenography” where you hide a storage device (e.g. hard drive) inside something that the feds would never waste time seizing but which would have a legitimate reason to be plugged in to the electricity.

  3. The whole idea of hard drive destruction is lame. If the thing still works, format it over and over again with something like Boot And Nuke, then re-use the drive. If it’s completely shot, take out the platter, smash it or something, and use the rest of the components for something useful…or just build an HDD speaker or HDD clock out of the dead drive.

    But if you absolutely must destroy (for you are crazy), then some explosives…or even just a sledgehammer…would do the trick.

  4. @CalcProgrammer1: Some drives have to be destroyed by law. Anything with secured government information has to be physically destroyed as well as digitally. I did an internship with a government organization and we had to do a DoD wipe (they had a special disk but Boot ‘n’ Nuke will do it too) and then take a pickaxe to perfectly good 80GB drives… so wasteful.

    I’ve got a couple of methods, one is just plain fun and the other leaves absolutely no way of getting anything back.

    The “self lathe” method (not guaranteed 100% destruction)
    [note: if you’re safety paranoid you may want to wear “protective eyewear” because you could get some flying metal shavings.]
    1. Pull the top off, since you don’t give a crap about the data it doesn’t need to stay clean.

    2. Power up the drive so that the platters are spinning.

    3. Take a cheap flathead screwdriver (there’s a risk of messing up the screwdriver so you don’t want to use a nice one) and touch the corner of the blade to the top platter, you’ll see a groove start to form, run that groove completely across the platter.

    4. Shuffle the platters around until you’ve thoroughly scratched up both sides of all the platters.

    The “let’s see you recover this” method. (nobody is getting squat off the drive after this)
    1. Pull the circuit board(s) off the drive, throw them in a microwave you don’t care about for 15 minutes (should be toast in a few seconds but why risk it)

    2. Open the drive up and remove the platters.

    3. Fire up the forge.

    4. Heat a platter until it’s a nice orange, then remove from forge and hold over the edge of an anvil.

    5. Hammer the platter over onto the side of the anvil to begin a fold.

    6. Finish the fold and hammer flat.

    7. Repeat steps 4-6 seven or eight times with each platter.

  5. well, just put current through the chip that does encryption on a whole disk encrypted drive…….fry the chip key, and no way that data is coming back……….

    I saw this enclosure at Fry’s that encrypts data on the fly into the drive, just somehow fry the chip in the enclosure that stores the hash, and, boom, unrecoverable, unless someone can randomly get YOUR PARTICULAR HASH…

  6. Or just use laptop drives for the “sensitive” data. They’re all pretty much glass platter anymore. Weld a nail to a rat trap and mount the drive in the rat’s place. Someone comes knocking, pull the string attached to the activation lever, snap! Nail punctures the top of the drive shattering the platters. Though depending on who’s knocking, they might have interns sitting around building pretty little shiny puzzles. :) I still think my forge is the best way though…

  7. I would make an nas with a mini or nano itx motherboard and power supply, then put it in a steel box lined with refractory cement with thermite above the drive, electrically ignited. With a combination lock for good measure.

    It could be triggered by trying to breach the safe or by remote over the net. I also like the idea of testing to see if anyone is breaking into the box by playing a subaudible tone into a speaker within the box and listening with software and a mike for any change, if the box is opened or cut into than the harmonics will change and the thermite will destroy everything.

  8. Ok, so most of these involve melting it, but that’s going to destroy your case, and won’t leave you time to get out of the country after the feds notice that your computer is melting. We need something that can be done on the fly, with little risk of accidentally setting it off. I think maybe using the “lathe” method described here earlier is most “practical” in the scheme where you need total destruction of data. There has to be some other way… will have to think about this…

  9. I had some classes with a guy that got direct access to the drive heads and motor via software and forced the drive to spin at full speed while slamming the read/write head onto the disk. Funny thing is it would totally screw up the drive…he said one drive actually got so hot it caught fire.

  10. this is simple but we used to do at work was a simple 0 gauge drill bit. 1 in the motor and 3 in the platers. quick and effective. also one realy fun way we found was the screen out of a 52 inch projection tv makes a huge magnifine glass that can melt through the platers and board of a HDD in under a min.

  11. At the DoD there are two approved methods. Four 1/4 inch holes through the platters, or several sweeps through the Gauss machine. Personally, I think a pic programmed to turn a battery powered electromagnet on and off as the drive spins. Thus pulling all the bits around on the drive, scrambling what was once legitimate data.

  12. remove the cover of the hard drive and plug it into a power supply, heat the disks inside with an oxy/mapp gas torch and at the same time hold a rare earth magnet to the disks with a vice grips, the magnets youll need are located inside the hard drive.

  13. Hows about the good old Microwave, set it to very high throw some beans in there with some cheese aswell, and you have a nice fireword display and nice fried HDD and some lunch at the end of it ( warning Contents maby be hot ) you have seen what microwaves do to Cd’s so why not microwaves

  14. hm, what about a external car battery with internal electrodes that on demand make contact to the center spindel and outer edge of the platters
    a few hundred amps at ~12 volts running through a thin aluminum disk = HOT disk = data goes byebye
    or same thing with 120v connection through some type of current limiter(ie, a resistor) so it’ll operate at the maximum power the circuit can handle without tripping the fuses/circuit breaker
    then there is always embedded magnet coils that connect to the ac line(although for th emost valuable data, im sure it’d be possible to recorver somthing from trace magnetic remnants)

  15. I knew a guy who worked at a place that recovered data off of hard drives for a living. We’re talking 20-30 grand per dive in almost any condition. He said the only thing that prevented recovery was if the drive was soaked in bleach. Not much fun factor – but complete secure destruction of data.

  16. Permanent magnets can be demagnetized in the following ways:

    * Heating a magnet past its Curie point will destroy the long range ordering.
    * Contact through stroking one magnet with another in random fashion will demagnetize the magnet being stroked, in some cases; some materials have a very high coercive field and cannot be demagnetized with other permanent magnets.
    * Hammering or jarring will destroy the long range ordering within the magnet.
    * A magnet being placed in a solenoid which has an alternating current being passed through it will have its long range ordering disrupted, in much the same way that direct current can cause ordering.

    The thing when the FBI or CIA or whatever is hunting you, probably you would not have time to destroy your HD. A powerful encryption could do the thing, because even the supercomputers would need years and years to open it.
    Else you could just melt the drive or smash it into tiny bits of dust! How to do it is time consuming thing, because you don’t wont to activate it by accident or don’t wont to fail in its function.

    And what about if you have a flash disk! What then! :D

  17. How about scrapping out a microwave for the magnetron and the needed parts, duck tape it to the drive and nuke your data. I don’t really know what that would do to a HD but it works great for cd/dvd disks

  18. Simply encrypt it with PGP whole disk encryption. Make your passphrase long enough, and nobody will ever get your data.

    This allows you to retain your data without going crazy paranoid on your drive. Also prevents ‘false positives’ when it comes to accidentally deleting your data.

  19. I do blacksmithing and have a homebuilt gas forge. I regularly heat up metal to non-magnetic state in it.

    It’d be a simple matter to toss the drive into the forge and heat it up the the point of total data loss. This would also likely melt most of the non-metal components.

    You could go even hotter, using a foundry set up and melt the casing down too. (lots of folks do backyard aluminum casting.)

  20. The disc platter is a substrate material with a magnetic layer added above and below it, so running a coil of thin nicrome wire through the substrate, coated with a highly flammable material, and finally making the substrate of a material with low melting point, like a plastic should reduce the platters into a gloop in a few seconds :)

  21. Although I like the idea of destroying things for the fun of it, this doesn’t seem worth the effort, if you are truely wanting to make the data on the hard-drive unattainable then one should target the entire platter surface. Remember that if you deep format a hard-drive the data can still be retrieved because the magnetic surfaces show traces of what was the ‘old’ state … you have to sweep of the hard drive a couple of times in order to remove these traces. Keeping that in mind, any destruction method should completely dissolve the layer of the platter that stores it…360 degrees of it =)

    I guess the question is what quality do you want: every bit and byte gone or make is as hard as possible or both ;)

  22. hmm also I wouldn’t trust encryption yet; quantum computing is around the corner and DARPA has great interest in this field as it can be used to factor large prime numbers at speeds magnitudes higher than any super computer available today; if you encrypt something now … will it still be uncrackable 20-30 years from now ?

  23. open the drive with the DIY clean room, then fill it with nitrogen tri-iodide. the recipie for that is on
    nitrogen tri-iodide is quite the dangerous contact explosive-once that drive is started up, there wont be much left of it.

  24. This is the best discussion thread on HAD in a long time.

    When I was younger and into computer networking I had several methods set up to destroy a hard-drive quickly. I once attached a model rocket engine to the hard-drive, so that the flame would enter into the enclosure just above the SATA cables. I just used everything I bought at a hobby store; a rocket engine, the igniter, and controller. Eventually I had two rocket engines mounted in a metal case that my dad helped me weld to the hard-drive (I didn’t tell him what it was for).

    Later on I got into explosives and packed thermite strips (in chewing gum paper) under the engine exhaust. It was my hope that the super hot rocket would indeed ignite it, but it was doubtful. I instead opened my hard-drive and inserted chewing gum strips of firework gun-powder, because I knew they would ignite and burn.

    When I was about 16 and I tested my rocket-engine theory with a very old 4 gig hard-drive. The engines ignited just fine, and burnt a small hole in the metal casing and melted all the plastic near by, but the hard-drive disks themselves were hardly damaged. We then proceeded with stuffing it full of firecrackers to no avail. Explosives just blow the disks apart into large-than-you-think pieces, you actually need a steady chemical fire inside the hard-drive case to destroy the disks.

    The magazine 2600 had a similar discussion in it a few years ago that’s worth reading. It talked about magnets, chemicals, and explosives to destroy HD’s.

    I’ve spent the last few hours researching the best ways to do it, and the DoD has published many finds.

    Gotta love google.

  25. I found the magnet trick works on a hard drive as far as usability. I needed to get mine replaced after a brief run in with a rather large magnet. I am sure I may have been able to recover (some of) the data but if you apply a purposeful magnet on a hard drive your data will be safe.

  26. Perhaps you could cut off the top of the hard drive shell and replace it with some thin rubber sheet (like a balloon material perhaps), and keep some powerful acid in a syringe somewhere. That way when the feds come, you can inject the acid yourself into the drive. This is so that you don’t have the chance of pressing a “self destruct” button accidentally. Goes nice with some data encryption too. ;)

  27. i suggest using a timer-operated electromagnet (with the strength of a rare earth magnet) that is positioned in whatever the prime position is for wiping your hard drive. let’s say your base of operations is stormed by a swat team that a mole called in. you just hit the little red button under the desk, and in, say, 5 seconds, the electromagnet kicks on, wiping all your data in about 10 seconds or less.

  28. Simplicity is usually the best option, like heating your hard-drive to maximum operating temperature. The thermal expansion of the surface would work as a physical “encryption” of the drive. Only at the same temperature you could read it, and nobody would remember heating the thing to recover data…

  29. Wow – A lot of folks can’t read instructions – He’s looking for an *automated* means of drive destruction.

    I think, if you wanted to completely destroy the drive when the machine was disconnected, I’d wire a linear shaped charge to a lithium battery and solenoid that’s held open by either/or the power LED feed or a Power-Over-Ethernet feed. When both are off, the solenoid closes and sets off the shaped charge.

    I’d recommend that you experiment with the charge to Get It Right: Too little, and The Bad Guys Have Your Stuff. Too much, and you killed somebody – videos of successful tests will probably come in handy when you’re standing trial for killing a FBI agent “By misadventure” or whatever.

  30. The way I would do it is to drill a hole through the top of the drive, over the platters. Then mount a nail on a lever with a rather weak magnet holding it up. Aim the nail toward the drive, so the nail will go through the hole and into the platters. Wrap about 20 turns of magnet wire around the drive, and hook them to a 120/240 voltage doubling transformer, which gets plugged into a wall socket or whatever. Now, whenever you need to destroy the data, simply activate the transformer. The coil will rapidly draw the nail into the platters (shattering them). The coil will also create a pretty severe magnetic field, screwing over what is left of the platters. Depending on what kind of time I have over the holiday, I might just build this….I’ll be sure to post results :)

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