Getting Rid of a Computer? Use a Hammer

We’ve covered how to keep data private on your current computer, but what about one that will no longer be in your possession?

Federal officials suggest using a hammer:

The hard drive should then be subjected, in a suitable facility with individuals wearing appropriate safety equipment, to physical force … (e.g., pounding with a hammer … ) that will disfigure, bend, mangle, or otherwise mutilate the hard drive so that it cannot be reinserted into a functioning computer. Sufficient force should be used directly on top of the hard drive unit to cause shock/damage to the disk surfaces.

The San Jose Mercury News discovered that gem of advice from the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “Other methods commonly used to eliminate stored bank records, Social Security numbers, and other confidential data can’t always be counted on to work,” the site says. It points to the story of two MIT graduate students who bought used hard drives on eBay and found everything from credit card numbers to old emails and medical records.

Trusting a recycling service to do the job for you also isn’t ideal. Some just collect spare parts and pass on the rest to other companies, the Mercury News says. You never have proof your data was wiped and the device destroyed.

If you want to sell your used devices instead of pulverizing them into worthless scrap, wipe their memory as best you can, while realizing you may not get everything. For PCs, DP Wiper is a free option that overwrites files with random data. Some experts suggest overwriting at least three times to be thorough. For smartphones, Lifehacker has a guide for both Apple and Android devices.

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Comments & discussion

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  • Michyle Glen

    Forget the hammer… That destroys the resale value.
    Do one of the following.
    Wipe the drive… There are several shareware programs that will write Zero’s from start to stop on your old drive.
    Then reload your OS and put the old computer on Craigslist.
    Remove the Hard drive… Simpler remove the Hard Drive, ask a friend if he can help you get an external enclosure for a ?? hard drive and you still have your data. Then put the computer on Craigslist for either parts or rebuild.
    Finally talk to a Computer Tech and ask him is he can remove all your personal Data. Then Craigslist.
    I am a firm believer that just because tech is old its not worthless,,, all you have to do is think outside the box.

  • Jcatz4

    Had to get a new computer a couple of yrs. ago because it wouldn’t work. Just died. There was no way I could “wipe” the hard drive clean. Before I disposed of it (through a spec. collection of old electronics), I removed the hard drive. I still have it but I’m not sure if I should smash it with a hammer or not. Is that a dangerous thing to do??

    • Grace McCarter

      Wear a mask to prevent particles from getting in your lungs. Also- safety glasses. You don’t want that stuff getting in your eyes. Also smash it up outside. I personally like the good ole drill press, but that’s my personal preference. My dad uses the logsplitter(seriously, we have a pneumatic logsplitter for heating the house) for the old work computer HDs with sensitive data.

      • Jcatz4

        Thanks for the advice.

        • Grace McCarter

          No problem! My dad’s an IT guy, so we all pay attention to technological security in this house. Well those that aren’t Luddites anyway, lol. :)
          Have fun with the carnage and freeing up that space in your home!

          • Kent

            Not much of an IT guy if he is using a log splitter to remove data from hard drives.

  • Joy Foy

    A good strong magnet will pretty well render all your data non accessible. Then it can be reformatted and a new OS installed.

  • JimPolichak

    Remove the hard drive and keep it in case there is something on it that might be of use to you in the future. Pictures of the kids, maybe?