Swapping out an aging HDD for a new SSD, or moving information from one drive to another location via data archiving solutions, usually requires that the old storage medium be properly scrubbed of its data if it is no longer going to be used. By doing so, consumers and businesses prevent unwanted parties from accessing personal or corporate items on discarded drives.
San Jose Mercury News business reporter Steve Johnson examined the media sanitization guidelines formulated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In their guidebook, the NIST authors recommended that when discarding one computer for another or migrating data to new drives, users "disfigure, bend, mangle or otherwise mutilate the hard drive so that it cannot be reinserted into a functioning computer."
These measures, while seemingly extreme, are foolproof ways to eliminate items like credit card numbers or personally identifiable information. These pieces of data remain in stored files even after a user "deletes" them by dragging them to the desktop recycle bin or using the Delete key, and there is no consensus about the efficacy of drive-cleaning software or repeatedly overwriting old data with new.
"While experts agree on the use of random data, they disagree on how many times you should overwrite to be safe," wrote the authors of a report from U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Computer Emergency Readiness team, cited by Johnson. "While some say that one time is enough, others recommend at least three times."
When procuring a new SSD to upgrade computer performance, end users can consider destroying the old drive themselves with hardware tools and safety equipment. Before ensuring its destruction, they may want to use a Blu-ray burner to copy old data to a disc, or utilize an archiving solution.
Additional hard drive sanitization methods
Short of destroying the drive outright, there are several alternatives that may work. In The Courier-Journal, writer Kim Komando recommended formatting the drive by reinstalling Windows. However, this approach may not ensure complete data erasure, especially on high-capacity HDDs that have been heavily fragmented over time.
Komando also touted the power of drive-wiping software, but came to a similar conclusion as the NIST coordinators.
"If you don't need your hard drive anymore, physically destroying it is the best way to keep your data from falling into the wrong hands," she wrote. "I would still run the Boot And Nuke [erasure] program first, however."