Removing hard drive data -- the YouTube way

Forget "Format c:" or that silly disk erasing software; get physical

With stories surfacing on news channels regularly about lost or stolen data or the ability to recover data from discarded or resold computers and their hard drives, Computerworld decided to look at some cheap methods of removing that sensitive data from your hard drive permanently. And, what better place to look than YouTube?

While some of the behavior in these videos clearly displays a somewhat alarming level of violence and pent-up rage (and are probably illegal), we nevertheless were fascinated with the myriad ways to destroy a hard drive -- from a plasma cutter to a train to machines we don't even know the name of -- not to mention aluminothermic reactions.

Who knew there was such a subculture devoted to abusing hard drives? We even tried it ourselves, and you know, it is kind of fun. Make sure to go to the end of the story to see our version of disk destruction.

Please remember to wear safety goggles if you attempt any of these at home. Which you probably shouldn't do. Seriously.

Thermite

Thermite

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First, we'll start out with a little thermite. What's thermite, you ask? According to Wikipedia, it's "a pyrotechnic composition of aluminium powder and a metal oxide which produces an aluminothermic reaction known as a thermite reaction."

As you can see in this video, it's stuff that gets really hot and burns through almost anything, including a metal hard drive.

Boom!

Pirate bomb

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Next up is a "pirate bomb," whatever that is. Looks like some sort of firecracker.

YouTube abounds with hard-drive explosion videos, but we liked this one because it's close-up, it's short and to the point, it shows the aftermath, and it repeats the explosion in slow motion with well-choreographed music, which is cool.

Smash, smash, smash ...

OK, a simple hammer job. It's not that creative or unusual, but we had to include it because of the sheer, dogged determination of this guy. I mean, he makes the Energizer Bunny look lethargic. He just won't quit. He must have arms like Popeye. Rarely have we witnessed such maniacal persistence.

The Hammer

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It also has an almost Bergmanesque quality with its simplicity and stark cinematography -- just a hard drive, a wall, a hammer and an arm.

So, if you've lasted through that video, you deserve a little reward. The first person to e-mail david_ramel@computerworld.com with the exact number of hammer strikes wins a $25 gift certificate. And we won't count the taps to put the drive back into the frame, but we will count the hard strikes that miss. [We have a winner! Congratulations Michael Wright! Actually two winners, because Ken McCrohan counted an off-camera strike -- for a total of 76 -- and we didn't address that in rules, so he gets $25 too. Thanks for your entries.]

The Crusher

The Crusher

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We didn't even know what this was at first -- some kind of enclosed industrial-strength drill press or something with a cone-shaped drill bit. But by following a link, we learned it's apparently a machine built just for this purpose. But brevity counts, and it's different and certainly gets the job done.

The first person to e-mail david_ramel@computerworld.com with the exact name of this machine and company that makes it gets ... nothing but gratitude and a mention in the article. Hey, we're not made of money around here, you know. [We have a winner! Congratulations Ed Trader.]

Plasma cutter

Plasma cutter on disk drive

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Yeah, we were wondering what a plasma cutter was too when we saw the title of this video. It sounded so sci-fi that we had to watch it, and we weren't disappointed.

A plasma cutter is a welding tool that combines a high-voltage arc with compressed gas to create plasma -- a gas that can reach temperatures of 16,000 degrees Celsius.

Even if you weren't cutting a hard drive in half, it would still be worth watching this torch light up.

Liquify that platter

Melting your data down

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While others smash, blow up, crush or otherwise destroy their hard drives, this video shows you how to turn your hard drive's disk platter into molten metal. There's a certain Zen in watching a data-filled platter splash down onto the concrete floor.

Train wreck

Train meets hard drive

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Remember putting pennies on the train tracks when you were a kid? Same principle.

Particularly appealing about this version of the oft-done "train destroys (insert object)" video is the slow-motion action, picture-in-picture display and aftershots. We're darn certain data's unrecoverable after this kind of abuse.

The acetylene torch

Acetylene light up

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An acetylene welding torch is a common tool among metalworkers, but who knew using one to bring your hard drive up to a white-hot flaming mass could be so very satisfying?

You'll want to watch this video to the end, as the participants pick up the still-smoldering disk drive and quench it in a 5-gallon bucket of water, producing a lovely, sharp hiss.

Shredding it

Shredding machine data kill

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Want to make sure no one can steal your data from your drive, or for that matter recognize it as a drive? Then shredding is the way to go. Of course, most of us don't own industrial shredding machines, so you'll have to pay for this service.

We liked this video in particular because munching a hard drive in an industrial machine has a visceral effect on a viewer. You can really feel those drives being ripped into tiny shards.

The Computerworld way

We saw a lot of disk-destruction videos featuring saws, but we didn't really like any of them. Too dark, too far away and so on. So we decided to make our own, with a metal-cutting chop saw.

We love the smell of ceramic/metal smoke in the morning.

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