So I got a gig Thursday, the kind of gig that could lead to another cloud migration mission (the first one you helped me with went swimmingly by the way), but the first and presently the only item on the list is that they’ve got ten computers they want to throw out but before they do they want confidence that no one’s going to be stealing their data.

The woman asked me how long this would take, I spat out one or two hours.

Regarding her degree of paranoia, it’s a small real estate brokerage. These people are extremely territorial over their contacts and leads. So just formatting the hard drives, though it’s probably enough, isn’t quite enough for a first impression as I want to get my foot in the door here and earn their trust. I can’t just format or repartition the drives.

So I’m thinking A) pop them all open, open up each individual hard drive, stab and scratch and mangle the platters with a solid screw driver, B) a variation of that involving a large blunt (or sharp) tool that security won’t freak when I bring it in or somewhere in between by just hammering in screwed through all of them.

Or I could take some software approach, erasing, stuffing the drive back up with random data, repeating over and over.

I’m leaning toward the physical angle, though either approach would get the job done for her purposes. But which would be quicker, which would make, if you were this lady, you more inclined to hire me for other things? Banging away on all the keyboards, loading software from a USB stick one at a time or physically destroying the hard drives? Guess I ought to sacrifice one my own drives for practice.

Fire is not an option by the way. Thanks fellas.

Doug Simmons


  1. Magnets, huh. Heh. Well while that may be a method we all would use for our own hard drives, I don’t want to look like I’m doing some sort of magic trick (plus I’d have no way of testing to see if it worked). Neodynaminum, gonna have to wikipedia that. I like wikipediaing metals, sometimes I run into something like tungsten carbide and think Damn I wish I had gotten a tungsten carbide wedding band. Thought platinum was supposed to be tough.

  2. if they dont care about or plan on using the old drives by all means throw them around for fun, but if they want those suckers you can just scramble the data… but if they are really paranoid just do a DOD or something that would take up more time in multiple formatting :p

  3. Ask any data retrieving expert, scratching the surface of disks is not enough, nor wiping it out with a magnet. Depending on how much of a freack she is, a low-level format would be sufficient. But lets say that she is convinced that some one is stalking her and her company, I would recommend the use of software like EBAN (in a nutshell: it writes random data and format it seven times).

  4. She’s not a freak from what I could gather. She’s just a real estate broker and those people really value their contacts. Some guy walking down the street sees a pile of computers in the trash, maybe he’ll grab one to sell for a hit of crack but that computer’s not going to make its way to some lab that digs up data from mangled platters and whatever. She just doesn’t like the idea of tossing ten computers without doing some kind of diligence, like hiring a guy.

    If they were my hard drives or I worked for the company I’d just toss them in the Hudson River and let the salt water and chemicals and depth take over. Get some exercise that way as well. Or I’d get some tools and start banging things or experiment with the microwave.

    This is a first impression thing so I have to look high tech, so software that writes and rewrites data several times sounds like the way to go. Just hope an hour or two is enough time. Close enough. EBAN, KillDisk… going to look that up. Wish I had asked her Macs or PCs, now I’ve either got to ask her or prep for both.

    I appreciate this guys. A wealth of knowledge out there apparently and all I have to do to tap into it is start typing “Help me out with something” and bam. It’s like IRC, except everyone’s focused on my question.

  5. Sucks about the fire method… :P
    BTW: I got a tungsten carbide wedding ring for my 11 year anniversary this year and love it!

  6. I’ve actually taken the old drives out and installed them in the new client workstations. Accomplishes a couple things – security is moot since the data stays in house, allows them access to old data in case something was missed during migration, provides added storage space (might be minimal), is least time consuming assuming drive interface is supported in new system. Also, I’ve seen Ontrack reccover data from only a single cracked HD platter. Security erase is only way to ensure data is nonrecoverable. Good luck.

  7. Danny: I ran that by my shrink yesterday who noted that doing things involving physical destruction rather than some Matrix-looking shit on the computers (IE using one of these rewrite/format things) would be perceived as bizarre behavior, overkill and something they could have done themselves. He made a convincing argument. I’m trying to court them into hiring me for contract work or to be their go-to guy and while the woman over the phone said can you come in Thursday to have a chat, an interview (this was after I told her what I did for another brokerage she was in touch with), she said Actually instead of doing that could you come in to deal with all of these computers we want to throw away.

    The software route sounds like it makes the most sense. This isn’t the CIA or the mob hiring me, they just don’t want someone going into the trash and plugging the things in and opening up Entourage or whatever in case whoever did that happened to be or know a real estate broker.

    Oh that’s another problem, I didn’t think to ask whether these are PCs or Macs. So I could either ask her or prepare myself for both while still backing a solid hammer with nails, at least one screw driver and maybe an icepick should it feel appropriate, like if the computers are all not plugged in but in a big pile and I can only do one at a time — gave myself a two hour window.

    Okay I’ll google up those programs which were mentioned and suit up for both a software and a physical approach, sacrificing one of my own drives for each method. Really important that I look both competent and not that weird. This could be a source of bacon to bring home.

  8. In the enterprise space, we either drillpress ’em, or send them out to a bonded data destruction company if the client requires certification. Otherwise, I use the DBAN CD and run it overnight.

  9. Hey!

    Okay, did the job yesterday. Ten computers, two hours, armed with a bootable DOS cd and usb containing UCSD’s Secure Erase and my actual toolkit. the computers were not plugged in, just in a pile, couldn’t run them all at the same easily and I got the impression pretty quick on the first run that this secure erase thing would take more than twelve minutes per, so I did a combination of running that on some of the machines, though not fully but hey, good enough, and did my best making the hard drives prohibitively difficult to read. Fucking broke my hammer, those sons of bitches with their allen screws are not easy to pry open or stab through, but I got the job done satisfactorily.

    The lady, the owner, took a liking to me off the bat and my next mission is moving the office (17 brokers) to the cloud as I did to another brokerage she’s friendly with who sung Google and my praises. On top of that, she’s interested in what I can do for her site, my recommendation on a new ISP, new cell phones, even voip which I had just almost finished setting up for a three man operation earlier that day… this is great. One visit and it already turned into that, and a healthy check at what is a healthy rate for the data cleansing (she rounded up too).

    In addition to the valuable advice you guys hooked me up with confidence that I’d nail this, so to speak, adequately and that put me at ease which helped make a better impression and turned this into something that’s turning into something. Between where this looks like its going and the other things I’m doing, could be looking at a positive cash flow soon. That would be nice. Don’t want to liquidate any Google shares just to pay the rent, can’t have that.

    This Ask the Readers thing, genius idea of mine.

    Thank you.


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