How NOT to Destroy Hard Drives

March 2, 2021 at 8:00 am by Amanda Canale

Since the first days of chat message boards and social media profiles, we’ve all heard the saying, “don’t put all of your information online because it never truly goes away.” The same can be said for end-of-life data and information on rotational hard disk drives (HDDs): once information is on there, it’s sometimes near to impossible to fully remove. Aside from implementing a secure, in-house destruction plan, there are many other methods we do not recommend using. Let’s break some of those down.

Recycling and/or Throwing Away

While we support the green initiative in trying to recycle your end-of-life drives, unfortunately, this cannot be securely done. For starters, the majority of our waste and recycling ends up in landfills and dumpsters which are gold mines for hackers and thieves. On top of that, recycling and waste is not transported securely, making it easy for people to intercept and have access to your most sensitive information.

It is reported that, on average, recyclables and waste sit on sorting floors for up to four weeks before finally being destroyed. Anything can happen within that length of time! After this period, remnants of your information or data are not magically sorted; dozens of employees’ sort what the machines cannot and have direct access to your data. By opting for a seemingly eco-friendlier alternative, you will only put your data at more risk.

Deleting and/or Overwriting

One of the more common (and misleading) data destruction misconceptions is that erasing or overwriting the information of an end-of-life drive and degaussing are synonymous with one another. While methods such as cryptographic erasure and data erasure would allow the drive to be used again, it is not a secure and foolproof destruction. Information, whether encrypted or unencrypted, can still linger behind on the drive and be accessed, even if it has previously been deleted or overwritten.


Burning a hard drive, whether with a blow torch or roasting it on a stick, is highly discouraged. Not only would this require protective gear and holding platters at a safe distance with a heat resistant tool, but burning hard drives will also lead to harmful fumes to be released into the air in the process.

Unfortunately, just because a drive experiences physical damage, it does not mean that the information has taken the same hit. Take for instance the 2003 explosion of the Columbia space shuttle. As the spacecraft made its way into the atmosphere, a piece of the insulation foam had detached, causing it to become enflamed and combust. The horrific disaster resulted in the loss of everyone aboard as the shuttle disintegrated on its way back to Earth.

Just about six months later, a rotational hard drive that was aboard the Columbia was found in a riverbed. It was discovered that the drive had not only survived the initial explosion, but it also survived a 40-mile fall while on fire at terminal velocity and staying in a muddy riverbed for six months. The most interesting part? Even after surviving all of that, it was discovered that 99% of the data that resided on the drive was recovered. It’s safe to say that burning a hard drive is not only harmful to you and the environment but is a tactic that simply won’t work. We suggest sticking to roasting just marshmallows over future fires.

Photo of recovered Columbia space shuttle hard drive


ITADs, or information technology asset disposition companies, are third-party vendors that sanitize and destroy end-of-life data and drives. While the appeal of these types of companies can be quite convincing, we at SEM do not recommend utilizing these types of companies when getting rid of your end-of-life data. While there are some reputable ITAD and data sanitization companies out there, the risk may not be worth the convenience. Security risks can be unpredictable and potentially catastrophic as it can be far too easy for ITAD vendors to misuse, mishandle, and misplace drives when in transportation, destruction, or disposal. It has also been reported that some vendors sell end-of-life devices and their sensitive information to online third parties.

During the summer of 2020, financial institution Morgan Stanley came under fire for an alleged data breach of their clients’ financial information after an ITAD vendor misplaced a number of drives that were storing personally identifiable information (PII). Instead, we suggest purchasing one of our NSA listed devices, keeping the chain of custody within the company, and conducting all destruction in-house.

Other (Un)Worthy Methods

  • Submerging the HDD in acid
  • Using a drive as target practice
  • Running over HDDs with your car
  • Giving HDDs a bubble bath
  • Physical destruction with a blunt object
  • Attaching industrial-strength magnets

Regardless of the catalyst for end-of-life drive destruction, it is always best practice to conduct destruction and degaussing in-house. While degaussing is not possible for the destruction of end-of-life data on solid state drives (SSDs), SEM recommends always following NSA standards and degaussing all magnetic media, including hard disk drives (HDDs), prior to destruction. Solid state drives (SSDs) and optical media cannot be degaussed, so crushing and/or shredding is recommended.

By first degaussing then physically destroying HDDs, companies are choosing the most secure method of data destruction per NSA guidelines as this is the only way to be certain that the end-of-life data has been properly destroyed. When magnetic media is degaussed, our devices use powerful magnetic fields to sanitize the magnetic tapes and drive, wiping all sensitive information from the device. This act renders the drive completely inoperable, which should always be the end goal. Once the device has been degaussed, it should be physically destroyed. The combination of degaussing and physical destruction for HDDs is without a doubt the most secure method of ensuring your end-of-life data stays at the end of its life.

It is also important to remember that a data breach is a data breach, no matter the level of impact. While not all degaussing machines are adequate to demagnetize all rotational hard disk drives, at SEM we have an array of various high security NSA listed/CUI and unclassified magnetic media degaussers to meet any need and regulation.

Level 6 Data Centers: Best Practices in Security

September 22, 2020 at 9:00 am by Amanda Canale

Over time, data center infrastructures have evolved from mainframes to cloud applications and can now take on various forms. The type of data center depends on the facility’s primary functions, how it is supported, and size. Based on these criteria, there are four main types of data centers: enterprise data centers, managed services data centers, colocation data centers, and cloud data centers. In addition to storing, managing, and circulating data, data centers also manage physical security systems, network and IT systems, power resources, environmental control, and performance and operational management.

Depending on the size and function of the data centers, some companies are known to have multiple centers in various locations that can store different data or serve as a centralized backup site. This helps to prevent the data from being destroyed due to natural or man-made disasters or in the instance of an outage. There are several levels to data center security, the highest level being Level 6. SEM devices are often part of a robust Level 6 data security program, as seen in this Google data center video.

Natural disasters aside, Level 6 data centers offer the utmost advances in modern data security to ensure that none of the data they store and manage gets into the wrong hands. Below we have broken down each security level within a Level 6 data center and offer an inside peek at just how difficult they can be to hack.

Level 1
Regardless of the kind of data center, the first level of security is the physical property boundaries surrounding the facility. These property boundaries typically include signage, fencing, and other significant forms of perimeter defenses.

Level 2
Once the physical property boundaries have been bypassed, the next level of security is a secure perimeter. Here, someone can enter through the main entrance gate and be met by 24/7 security guard staff, comprehensive camera coverage, smart fencing, and other perimeter defense systems. Once someone has entered the second level, the company’s security personnel have eyes on their every move.

Level 3
Level 3 finally allows physical entry to the data center…well, kind of. Even though someone may have been granted building access, they are still nowhere near the data center floor. This level requires a security search of each individual entering the data center. Employees entering the facility must provide a company-issued identification badge and be subjected to an iris or facial scan to confirm identity. In addition, most data centers only allow one person to badge in through doors at a time. All of these combined layers are to ensure that only approved personnel may enter.

Level 4
Level 4 houses the security operations center (SOC). The SOC is often referred to as the brains of the security system as it monitors the data center 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.  All of the previous layers of security discussed above (from camera footage, ID readings, to iris scans) are connected to the SOC and monitored by a select group of security personnel. Think of this level also as the eyes and ears of the facility.

Level 5
Level 5 is the data center floor – finally! This is where all of the company’s data and information is stored. When at this level, security is much stricter when it comes to access and only a small percentage of staff members have access to this level; typically, only the technicians and engineers so they can repair, maintain, or upgrade equipment. Even when on the data center floor, technicians and engineers only have access to the devices, but not the data itself, as all of the stored data is encrypted (another layer of security!).

Level 6
This is where all of the fun happens. And by fun, we mean data destruction. Security at this level is at an all-time high with even fewer personnel having access. It is at this level where end-of-life of all storage media happens. If a device needs to be destroyed, there is usually some sort of secure two-way access system in place, which can vary depending on the facility. This means that one person drops off the device to a locker or room and another person takes the device away to be destroyed. This step is crucial to maintaining data security protocols so only technicians assigned to the destruction room have access to the devices. It is the role of the technicians in this room to scan, degauss (magnetic media only), and destroy the retired devices.

Leaving the data center is a process just as intensive and secure as entering. Every person leaving the data center floor is subjected to a full-body metal detector and makes his or her way back through each of the previous levels. This is to ensure that no one is able to leave with any devices and each person that has entered can be accounted for when leaving.

In the destruction phase, it is NSA best practice to first degauss the device if it is magnetic media. This practice offers companies the most secure method of sanitization. SEM degaussers use powerful magnetic fields that sanitize magnetic tapes and magnetic hard disk drives. It is this act alone that renders the drive completely inoperable – which is always the goal. Not even the most skilled of hackers will be able to get any information off of the drive, simply because there’s nothing left on it to hack!

The next step is the physical destruction of the drive or device. This can be done by act of crushing and/or shredding. Combined, degaussing and destroying ensure that no information is susceptible to getting stolen and offer the best security in the destruction of your end-of-life data.

One of the most common data destruction misconceptions is that erasing or overwriting a drive and degaussing are the same thing. They’re not. Erasing data isn’t completely foolproof as it’s possible that trace amounts of encrypted and unencrypted data can still get left behind. This becomes a gold mine for hackers and thieves, who then have complete freedom to do whatever they want with your most sensitive and classified information. But remember, degaussing is only effective for magnetic media, such as rotational hard disk drives (HDDs). Deguassing is completely ineffective on solid state drives (SSDs) and optical media; therefore, physical destruction (crushing or shredding) to a very small particle size is best practice for these devices.

Regardless of the type and size of data center, implementing security layers like the ones listed above and destroying end-of-life data in-house are always best practice. By doing so, companies can be confident that their data has been successfully destroyed. Some companies make the mistake of opting for a third-party data sanitization vendor. When going the third-party route, individuals and companies forfeit any and all oversight, which leaves plenty of room for drives to be stolen, misplaced, and mishandled. It is this level of negligence, whether at the hand of the company or vendor, that can cause catastrophic damages to the company, its brand, and its customers.

Hackers do not discriminate. So regardless of the industry, purchasing in-house, end-of-life data destruction equipment is well worth the investment simply because it is impossible to be certain that all data has been destroyed otherwise. This can in turn potentially save the company more time and money in the long run by preventing breach early on.

At SEM we have an array of various high-quality NSA listed/CUI and unclassified magnetic media degaussers, IT crushers, and enterprise IT shredders to meet any regulation – including Level 6! Any one of our exceptional sales team members are more than happy to help answer any questions you may have and help determine which machine will best meet your company or federally regulated destruction needs.

Why Data Centers Need Formal Data End-Of-Life Processes

December 16, 2019 at 4:02 pm by Paul Falcone

Concerns about data security and privacy are no longer restricted to just IT and security professionals. Due to more mainstream security breaches—as well as documentaries like Netflix’s The Great Hack—people everywhere are now concerned about the disturbing implications of today’s data-saturated, data-driven cultural environments.

Data centers are at the heart of both the problem and solution regarding sensitive data storage, security, and decommissioning. Many people falsely believe data centers are becoming obsolete because of the omnipresent cloud; in reality, cloud data is reliant on reimagined data centers being able to handle the ever-increasing capacity of data that is transferred. A 2016 study estimates that global IP traffic will reach 3.3 zettabytes by 2021. (If that doesn’t sound too impressive, consider that one zettabyte is equal to one sextillion bytes or one trillion gigabytes.)


The costs of setting up and maintaining a data center can be astronomical. Even if situated on existing property, data centers cost an estimated $200 per square foot to build. This figure does not include the tens of thousands of dollars that could be spent to have fiber installed to reach the location, nor the daily operating expenses the facility incurs in and of itself.

To maximize ROI, data center operators often skimp on hardware and software upgrades/installations when their current system has reached end-of-life. Some operators also waste physical space storing old equipment that contains sensitive or classified data because they lack the means to destroy it. Many data centers rely on third-party on-site or off-site solutions that may be ineffective; in fact, these “solutions” can often end up costing exorbitant amounts in instances like breaches of equipment that unjustifiably “escaped” destruction. Ultimately, the failure to create and act on a thorough in-house end-of-life process can cost data centers in several respects, including lost business to better-equipped, more-secure facilities and financial penalties for noncompliance with regulations like HIPAA, PIPEDA, or the GDPR.

The Importance of Having an In-house Data Security and Destruction Process

The first rule of data security is to maintain control of the data throughout its entire lifecycle—something that’s simply not possible when using a third-party destruction vendor. A 2017 study from Kroll Ontrack demonstrates how assurances from third parties often prove meaningless. The company purchased 64 used drives on eBay and discovered that many of them still contained sensitive information despite the sellers’ assertions that the devices had been effectively wiped. In 2009, BT’s Security Research Centre headed a study examining the purchase of 300 secondhand hard disks. Alarmingly, one disk contained classified details regarding the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ground-to-air missile defense system used to shoot down Scud missiles in Iraq.

It’s an eye-opening reminder: To guarantee complete, error-free data end-of-life destruction, data centers must assume firsthand control and oversight of the underlying processes.

Managing End-Of-Life Hardware and Software

A crucial component of a through end-of-life process will address the technology used to store and encrypt data. As technology marches forward, manufacturers are constantly releasing new hardware and software versions to ensure systems can be kept current with regard to efficiency and security functionality and capabilities. Over time, manufacturers stop offering tech support, updates, and critical patches to products that are discontinued, giving cybercriminals ample opportunities to exploit security vulnerabilities and breach outdated security firewalls. Specifically, widespread damage—including corruption and theft of data—can occur if end-of-life technologies (e.g., operating systems) are still used by facilities like data centers. For example, Microsoft stopped offering mainstream support in 2011 and extended support in 2014 for Windows XP. Despite this, VICE’s Motherboard found that London’s Metropolitan Police had over 35,000 computers still running the aging operating system well into 2015. Since a police department houses a great deal of sensitive data, such a situation is highly disconcerting.

All data centers should employ a Chief Security Officer (CSO) or a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to manage their end-of-life plans for all data and equipment. As manufacturers release new software and hardware, it is imperative to ensure that current systems are still supported and that a plan exists to replace or destroy outdated equipment before it becomes vulnerable.

Wiping or Storing Old Equipment is not Sufficient

Don’t be swayed by claims alleging that saving the environment requires that old hard drives or machines still be functional in order to be recycled. The reality is that thoroughly destroyed hard drives can just as easily have their materials harvested for recycling. By not destroying hard drives and relying on data wipes instead, data centers greatly increase the chances that the data survives and that it can fall into the hands of whomever purchases or finds the devices.

Many organizations retain outdated devices simply because they are unsure how to dispose of them. Moreover, these companies often falsely assume that literally “closeting” these devices (and their embedded data) somehow eliminates all possible risks of data theft.

Given the realities of life, however, that’s a dangerous assumption. Remember that data is always subject to theft or corruption as long as it remains intact (in fact, as long as humans are subject to making mistakes or being anything less than one-hundred-percent vigilant!). Case in point: In 2015, Fortune 500 health insurance provider Centene Corporation realized that six unencrypted hard drives containing protected health information for 950,000 people went missing. And in August of 2019, the New York City Fire Department lost a hard drive containing over 10,000 medical records.

The most effective solution involves in-house destruction of data storage devices, including highly durable enterprise-class hard drives, to NSA standards. By owning in-house destruction equipment, you will save costs over the long term—not  just by avoiding third-party service fees, but also by mitigating the risks and avoiding the catastrophic consequences of a major data breach and the associated regulatory fines. Companies like SEM offer a wide variety of NSA-rated equipment to handle all your in-house data destruction needs; in fact, SEM is the only manufacturer offering equipment that’s capable of destroying enterprise-class drives like those used in data centers.

Why Data Centers Need to Know About GLBA Compliance

May 14, 2019 at 1:10 pm by Heidi White

Data privacy and data protection rules are hot topics, having prompted us to consider exactly how we share, store, and dispose of our personal information from the individual level to the corporate level. Indeed, most (if not all) businesses must now adhere to some sort of data protection and privacy policy as set forth by industry standards. But what happens if your business interacts with other businesses that have their own policies and regulations to follow? Do you have to adopt those rulings for your business in order to continue working together? In most cases, the answer is yes.

Take data centers. If you operate such a business, you likely have stringent rules in place for securing the data you house on behalf of your clients. But, do you also follow the data regulations and privacy policies set forth by your clients? If your answer is no and your clientele is covered under the GLBA, you’ll need to revisit your information security plan immediately to incorporate GLBA compliance.

What is GLBA?

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) of 1999 mandates that financial institutions and any other companies that offer financial products to consumers such as loans, financial or investment advice, and insurance must have safeguards to protect their customers’ sensitive data and must also disclose in full their information-sharing practices and data security policies to their customers.

Check-cashing businesses, payday lenders, real estate appraisers, professional tax preparers, courier services, mortgage brokers, and nonbank lenders are examples of businesses that don’t necessarily fall under the “financial institution” category yet are included in the GLBA. The reason is that these organizations are significantly involved in providing financial products and services and therefore have access to personally identifiable information (PII) and sensitive data like social security numbers, phone numbers, addresses, bank and credit card numbers, and income and credit histories.


GLBA Compliance: Applicable to More than Just GLBA-Covered Businesses

In accordance with GLBA, organizations covered under this Rule must develop a written information security plan that details the policies put in place at the organization to protect customer information. The security measures must be appropriate to the size of the business and the complexity of the data collected. Moreover, each company must designate an employee or a group of personnel to coordinate and enforce its security measures. Lastly, the organization must continually evaluate the effectiveness of its developed security measures, identifying and assessing risks to improve upon the policy and measures taken as needed.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “How does this affect my business as a data center?”

The data safeguard rules also apply to any third-party affiliates and service providers employed by the companies covered under GLBA. As such, it is the responsibility of the GLBA-covered company to ensure the same steps are taken by the affiliate third-party to protect the data they interact with or store on behalf of the company. This means companies under GLBA are going to select third-party service providers like yours based on those companies that are also set up operationally with the same steps and policies in place to safeguard sensitive data. Furthermore, organizations under GLBA have the authority to manage the way in which their service provider handles their customer information to ensure compliance with GLBA.

Cloud-based data centers therefore must comply with GLBA rules for security policies and enforcement or risk losing business from those organizations and other potential clients that are covered under GLBA. As the data center operator, you could go about this in one of three ways: 1) Create separate GLBA-compliant policies for each client organization based on their needs, 2) Allow each client organization to delineate the GLBA-compliant policies they’d like your business to follow and adopt those accordingly, or 3) Establish one set of GLBA-compliant policies that cover all aspects of data protection and privacy that can work for all client organizations and potential new business.

An SSD before and after going through a SEM Model 2SSD solid state disintegrator

GLBA and Data Destruction

Just as there are plans and personnel in place to oversee the safeguarding of data while it’s in use, under the GLBA there must be a plan and personnel in place to oversee data destruction when the data has reached its end-of-life. These policies and plans for the proper disposal of secured data should be incorporated into the organization’s information security plan and should be regularly evaluated for risk as well. While this is a straightforward task for the GLBA-covered company, developing and enforcing GLBA-compliant data destruction policies for a third-party affiliate or service provider like a data center is a different story entirely.

Not only do you need to create a set of protocols around data and drive destruction for your data center, you need to be able to prove to your client organization that you can properly dispose of the drives the data is housed on as well as the data itself. This is because both data and drive disposal must be achieved so that neither the data nor the drive can be recovered or otherwise reconstructed after destruction. Since your data center already provides remote access to the information you store, it’s recommended that you purchase and maintain data destruction machinery at your center. This way, you also control where that sensitive information is handled during the data destruction event.

One of the simplest ways to ensure compliance during data destruction events is to work with the GLBA-covered organization to assign certain personnel to that task within your data center. For instance, assigned personnel within your company as well as the client company’s GLBA task force would be required to be on-site during data destruction events. Both parties would be responsible for enforcing data destruction at the data center, including the documentation of every data destruction event, to ensure compliance and alleviate liability in the event of a breach.

Security Engineered Machinery is the global leader in high security information end-of-life solutions including paper and IT shredders, crushers, disintegrators, and degaussers.

In-House Solutions for End-of Life Hard Drives in Data Centers

June 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm by SEM

Today, data centers are the backbone of of our digital information society. The question is: do you have a solid plan in place to effectively and securely handle your drives at end-of-life?

Whether it’s just disposing of a few failed drives, or a planned system upgrade, eliminating data from hard drives is one of the most critical elements of limiting liability in any data center.

The sensitive nature of the information on your drives makes it absolutely critical that when a drive fails or comes to end-of-life (EOL) that you efficiently, effectively and securely eliminate the possibility of that data being accessed on any defective or obsolete hard drives.

As data storage technology evolves, so must the data eliminations and destruction process. Depending on the security level of the drives, classified, top secret, or just sensitive, there are many ways to accomplish this vital task.

If you operate a data center with government classified or top secret information, according to the NSA, you need to first sanitize, also known as degaussing, a hard drive with an NSA approved device. Then once degaussed the hard drive must be shred, punched or otherwise physically destroyed.

More detailed information on degaussing options can be found here.

If you don’t have any government secrets on your drives or a strict internal policy, all you need to do is physically destroy them. No degaussing is required.

Crushers that punch and bend the drives are a great option for small batches of drives, or as support for smaller data centers, shipping them out to use as needed.

SEM Model 0101 HDD Crusher

Today, there are many different hard drive shredders available for any application. These shredders can destroy between 50 and 3,500 drives an hour. The particle size you can choose from based on your security requirements can be anywhere from 3/4’”to 1-1/2” wide by random length. Hard drive shredders like these can quickly, efficiently and securely take whole drives and turn them instantly into highly recyclable metal scrap, making the drives unrecognizable and the information irretrievable.

More information about crushers and shredders can be found here.

SEM Model 0305 HDD Shredder

Another major security concern for data centers is that many do not want to remove or transport the drives from the site or let anyone come on-site for HDD destruction. With some of the options shown above, destruction cab be completed in house and on-site to maintain the security of the site while meeting all destruction requirements. For smaller data centers that would not need a large full time device, many of these solutions are small enough to be shipped anywhere in the world from site to site as needed! This saves time, money and enhances a sites security by keeping contact with the data to internal personnel only.

As we have discussed, protecting the information and preventing unauthorized access to your obsolete drives and the information on them is the most critical element in managing your liability and reducing your risk.  Many companies have already taken steps to prevent future problems. Will you be next?

See this video about how Google is tackling this challenge:

Is your company ready to maximize your hard drive security while minimizing the liability? If you have any additional questions about what solution is the best for you, SEM is here to help. Contact us today to ensure your data is destroyed safely, securely, and to all spec and regulations that need to be met.