When Hillary Clinton’s aids apparently took a hammer to a couple of her old Blackberries to destroy them, regardless of their intent, it was not a very effective way to destroy the data they wanted to wipe from the devices. That’s a little like scraping your hands with a wire brush to try to get rid of any bacteria that might be on them. When it comes to ensuring nobody can access any residual data on hardware devices like smartphones, laptops or tablets, there’s only one thing that matters – Did you destroy the component(s) where the data is actually stored?
The memory chips or hard drives
In most hardware devices, all of the data is usually stored in only a couple of important places; the solid state memory chips embedded in plastic blobs or blocks attached to the printed circuit board, or the magnetic disks inside the metal hard drive. These can sometimes be very small; and sometimes very hard to identify and/or destroy with brute force (like the hammer used by Clinton’s aids). If you don’t destroy the actual components where the data is destroyed, it may be possible for an expert to retrieve it.
How to effectively wipe a device
So, if you want to be sure your data will not be recovered by anyone who might have access to it when it leaves your possession, here are a couple of my favorite tricks:
1) For hard disks. Get out your Black and Decker drill, and drill about a dozen holes through the disk drives in your laptop or desktop computer. Make sure the drill goes all the way through the casing from top to bottom. After doing this, the disk will have a hard time spinning, if it will spin at all, when somebody tries to use it. Even a hacker using forensic tools will take a long time to get any useful data off the disk. For good measure, organizations that really want to get rid of data from their disk drives also use extremely strong electromagnets with alternating fields to “degauss” the drive, removing any magnetic fields that my still have existed. HERE‘s an example. And if that’s not enough, special incinerators heat them up enough to melt the disks, making them really unusable in any way. And HERE‘s an example of incinerating a drive.
2) For smartphones and tablets, or any devices with solid state memory chips. I like using a blender. But not just any cheap, household blender. You may destroy the blender before you destroy the media. My favorite is the BlendTec blender. This entertaining YouTube video shows how effective this technique can be. (But don’t breath the iSmoke).