Creative ways to destroy computer data

THe BBC has a feature story on data destruction. Of course I can’t let it go by without comment.

The sidebar provides the tastiest tidbits.One item in the sidebar makes fun of a user who freezed his hard drive. Don’t laugh. It actually is possible to perform amateur data recovery using a fridge and/or a hair dryer. But this is only a last resort, and I must warn you, the freezer trick can prevent a service like Ontrack from getting your data back in extreme cases, and in most cases will make it more expensive.

The idea behind freezing the drive is that if something inside is stuck, the expansion and contraction of the freezing can loosen it. The downside is that if it’s going to work, the drive’s life expectancy is reduced to approximately 30 minutes. So you need to have a computer ready to receive the frozen drive and immediately start copying files from the drive after retrieving it from the fridge, because if this is going to work, you won’t have a lot of time.

This trick only works for certain types of mechanical failures and, I might add, should only be attempted if you are extremely desperate.

A much less desperate method is to try heating the drive up to operating temperature with a household hair dryer. This can remedy a larger number of mechanical problems and presents very little, if any, potential for harm.

One thing I must say about data recovery: You really need to leave it to the experts. At the first sign of trouble, power the system down and call a computer professional. If said computer professional does not have any data recovery experience, the drive needs to be handed off immediately to one who does. As soon as that professional has exhausted his/her knowledge, a determination has to be made whether to bring in a high-priced specialist such as Ontrack.

A year or so ago, one of my clients had a hard drive crash. A number of people messed with it before passing it on to their desktop support person. He almost immediately contacted my old boss, who has done some data recovery. He in turn contacted me. It took us about five minutes to determine it was beyond anything either of us could do. Someone heard about a data recovery place about an hour away, so some executive decided we should send the drive to them because they’d get the data back to us faster. Well, they didn’t even have an answer in the promised timeframe, let alone the data. Finally the drive came back and we sent it to Ontrack. They quickly came back with sad news. Their chances of recovering the data, had they received the drive quickly, would have been very high, but so many people had gotten their hands in it that the drive was completely beyond salvage.

So, if you really need the data back, pay the $600-$900 and wait the week it’s going to take to have Ontrack or Drive Savers do the job. If you don’t have $600-$900, try things like the fridge but be aware it’s your last chance.

As far as driving off with your laptop sitting on your car, one of my former coworkers actually got away with that. He left his laptop case sitting on his trunk and drove off and actually traveled several miles before it flew off. Someone saw it happen, retrieved the laptop, and found his business card in the case. He called the following Monday, and my former coworker opened it up. The CD in the CD-ROM drive was shattered and there was gravel in the system’s various orifices. Remarkably, the screen was undamaged. He shook out the gravel and other debris, powered the laptop on, and it worked.

And his boss did immediately approve the purchase of another laptop right away, no.

I’m sure you want to know the make and model of this laptop. It was a Micron Trek 2. Current-production laptops from MPC (the successor of Micron PC) aren’t nearly that durable.

Both he and I have moved on since then, taking new jobs, so he no longer works with me and he took that laptop with him when he left the company. But it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it still works.

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