Electromagnetic systems for wiping data on hard drives
Most data erasure systems I tell you about in this course destroy data at the software level, or they wipe access keys to encrypted information without its removal. In this chapter you will know about hardware systems for data wiping that can be easily purchased in almost any country of the world.
There are many ways to destroy hard drives: break them with a hammer, pour acid, subject them to thermal impact, but there is a far more effective and fast method – degaussing. The main function of all hardware data erasure equipment is to degauss hard drive.
These devices wipe data by generating high-intensity electromagnetic fields with electric generators. Undoubtedly, you can always use physical destruction systems, for instance, devices that can punch a hole in a hard drive, presses or shredders for CD drives. But these are mostly cumbersome tools and the only advantage they have is that you can actually see your hard drive is destroyed.
I ordered a built-in electromagnetic data erasure system and am ready to share my experience with you. I’ll start with disadvantages, and to my disappointment, these systems have more drawbacks than advantages.
First, these systems are high-priced. For instance, I spent almost $2000 for purchase, delivery and installation of the device on my computer to destroy data from an SSD, including a remote control fob and an extra external button.
Second, complicated installation. Though I do possess a certain amount of technical expertise, I had to resort to the seller for help.
Third, there is no way you can check if the device can function since the device will irreversibly damage my hard drive if I test run it. So if I got a defective system, it will fail me at the most responsible moment. Therefore, software solutions have a great advantage over hardware ones because they actually allow you to THOROUGHLY check them without damaging your device.
Fourth, a system can’t be built into any frame. Modern comparatively small frames of personal computers don’t allow you to build in an electromagnetic data erasure system. Of course, it won’t fit you if you work with a laptop, though the market offers separate solutions for laptops made in the form of a suitcase.
Fifth, hard drive damage. Unfortunately, an SSD for $1000 will be destroyed after you run the system on it just once. In this case an inadvertent run of the system can prove pretty costly for you.
Six, you’ll have to take your device to maintenance at least once a year, otherwise, no one will guarantee that your system will run properly.
Hardware systems for data have another significant downside – dependence on battery. As a rule, the internal battery’s life is 48 hours. However, if your computer was left without charging for over two days, the system won’t function if attacked or if it becomes remotely activated. When it comes to servers, this won’t be a problem, but your personal computer can stay without charging for a couple of days.
Now let’s look at the advantages of degaussers. These devices are quite fast: according to the seller, data wipe takes 1-2 seconds; moreover, it will work if intruders turn over the frame of my computer or attempt to open it. Opening and turning over a computer for transportation purposes are common measures for performing forensic analysis or an attempt to steal a device, and the good thing is that the lab will already get an empty hard drive.
I have a remote control fob that works from a distance of up to 1000 m without obstacle. Though it works from any point of my apartment. I’m not sure if that’s worth an extra $200 out of my pocket considering the fact that I have a corded button under my desk that activates the degausser. Unfortunately, and I have mentioned that before, the system doesn’t allow you to check if it functions properly.
You can also activate the system through SMS, but you’ll have to pay an extra amount of money for this service. Be aware that intruders can use a jammer to prevent data wipe via a remote control fob as well as via SMS.
You probably want to know how it happened. I found a degausser seller through search and placed an order for the device on the website. After the system was delivered, I tried to install and adjust it independently, but couldn’t. I contacted the seller, and he told me how much a technician’s visit would cost me.
The technician came, opened the System Unit and fitted the data erasure hardware into it. He had to redo several holes to fix holders. I was lucky that the System Unit was old and had enough space for it. Otherwise, I would’ve had to mount an additional box with an electromagnetic system and put the hard drive in it.
There are two types of electromagnetic erasure systems.
- Flat degausser. These electromagnetic erasure tools have the impulse generator only on one side of the hard drive. Though they are easy to install, they are also less effective.
- Impulse degausser. Data erasure hardware of this type use a solenoid coil where you put your hard drive inside the coil to cover all of the plates with the magnetic field, ensuring more effective data wipe. Moreover, the magnetic fields of these tools are active only on the area inside the coil. This was my choice of hardware degausser.
I’ve just covered for you the key takeaways about hardware degaussers. Below you can see a table with the comparison of differences between a hardware degausser and emergency data erasure application Panic Button.