Securely Wipe a Dead Hard Drive

Dwma needs to return a dead hard drive to the manufacturer, and asked the Answer Line forum for a way to first remove sensitive data.

Hard drives almost always contain some potentially compromising information, such as credit card and social security numbers. You should always wipe a hard drive before turning it over to someone else. But that job is particularly difficult if the hard drive no longer works. (See Remove Sensitive Data Before You Sell an Old PC for wiping healthy drives.)

But why would you even need to secure a drive that doesn't work? As rgreen4 pointed out in the original forum discussion, if the drive's electronics are fried but the mechanical components are still working, someone could fix it without destroying your data, which could then fall into the wrong hands.

What you have to do is find someone who can degauss your drive. Translation: Someone who can erase it with a very powerful, very expensive magnet.

One thing you could do is talk to the people you're returning the drive to, whether that's the manufacturer (Dwma's drive died while under warranty) or a recycling center. They may offer a policy of degaussing drives when they receive them.

If they don't, or if you don't trust them, you can find a company in your area that degausses drives. I went to http://anywho.yellowpages.com, searched for degaussing and my zip code, and found a place that would wipe the drive for $25.

Add your comments to this article below. If you have other tech questions, email them to me at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum.

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