How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

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Cadmus
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How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Cadmus » Wed Jul 15, 2009 11:40 am UTC

Simple question, how hot would a furnace have to be destroy the platters of a hard disk beyond doubt?
[list=]Would glass platters make a difference?
What other materials are used in HD platters and how would this change things?
Is it even necessary to melt them, will sufficient heat destroy the magnetic properties of the surface before destorying the drive itself?[/list]

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Axman » Wed Jul 15, 2009 3:48 pm UTC

You wouldn't have to push it too high to destroy the data, although that doesn't necessarily make the platters non-magnetic. Heat and magnetism are almost interchangeable as far as hard drives are concerned, so sticking it in an oven at its top temp is pretty damn sure to ruin the data and the controller. If you really want to fuck it up, apply uneven heat; either toss it in some water afterwards or stick it in a fire; campfires often exceed 1500 degrees at the coal bed. Neither of those temperatures is going to melt the platters, but damage and warp is almost guaranteed.

DOD standard is to write random bits over the whole drive three times.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby iansmith » Wed Jul 15, 2009 4:10 pm UTC

If you want to destroy the data, heat the platters to their curie point. Thats the point where the mterial looses it's ability to hold a magnetic field, and the data will be totally wiped out.

I doubt you will find the exact temp for the media substrate on the disk, but I bet 1000 deg F will do the trick with ease.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby You, sir, name? » Thu Jul 16, 2009 9:04 pm UTC

iansmith wrote:If you want to destroy the data, heat the platters to their curie point. Thats the point where the mterial looses it's ability to hold a magnetic field, and the data will be totally wiped out.

I doubt you will find the exact temp for the media substrate on the disk, but I bet 1000 deg F will do the trick with ease.


Well, the curie temperature for Iron is closer to 1,500 F. But since you don't know just what alloy is in the platters, you'll probably want to go a bit over 2,000 F to be reasonably sure. Though, it may be FeCo, which puts the point closer to 2,250 F. I'm sure there are alloys with higher curie points, so you'll probably want to go for 3,000 F or higher.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Axman » Thu Jul 16, 2009 9:41 pm UTC

It's cobalt-doped aluminum spread on glass or ceramic platters (usually), so 1500F should do it with some headroom.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby LinuxPenguin » Thu Jul 16, 2009 11:15 pm UTC

That's getting awfully hot. Wouldn't it be easier to just smash the drive to bits? :mrgreen:
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Carnildo » Fri Jul 17, 2009 3:20 am UTC

LinuxPenguin wrote:That's getting awfully hot. Wouldn't it be easier to just smash the drive to bits? :mrgreen:

Do you know how small the bits in question are? You might want to smash the drive to half-bits just to be safe, and those are even smaller.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Atmosck » Fri Jul 17, 2009 4:03 am UTC

Yeah. I don't see why we're discussing melting the platter, when some simple explosives will do.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Axman » Fri Jul 17, 2009 4:24 am UTC

Or sandpaper. But fire keeps coming back due to ass-kickotry.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby darkspork » Fri Jul 17, 2009 4:50 am UTC

Why not just use a microwave oven? The random current induced on the platter should be enough to wipe it clean beyond all possible repair and recovery.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby You, sir, name? » Fri Jul 17, 2009 11:04 am UTC

From what I understand, the actual storage area of the platters is only the surface, so sandpapering the surface might be effective? (This may be wrong though)
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Link » Fri Jul 17, 2009 5:22 pm UTC

Why not use thermite? It's easy to make and gives absolutely spectacular results. Not only will it completely annihilate the data, it will also reduce the drive itself to a puddle of molten metal. Be sure not to ignite it on top of or near anything you care about, because it can and will burn right through it.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Atmosck » Fri Jul 17, 2009 5:30 pm UTC

Link wrote: Be sure not to ignite it on top of or near anything you care about, because it can and will burn right through it.


Which includes, I add from experience, cement. (ie. my driveway)

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Axman » Fri Jul 17, 2009 6:24 pm UTC

We have a 4500F solution, then.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby cmd » Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:50 pm UTC

Atmosck wrote:
Link wrote: Be sure not to ignite it on top of or near anything you care about, because it can and will burn right through it.


Which includes, I add from experience, cement. (ie. my driveway)


Heh, what *DO* you burn thermite on top of then?

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby TaintedDeity » Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:59 pm UTC

More thermite.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby mosc » Fri Jul 17, 2009 8:45 pm UTC

You, sir, name? wrote:From what I understand, the actual storage area of the platters is only the surface, so sandpapering the surface might be effective? (This may be wrong though)

That would generally work. The data will be completely lost before you ever touch it with sandpaper though, a few seconds of air exposure is pretty much a death blow anyway. I'm sorry, did that not keep in spirit?
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Axman » Fri Jul 17, 2009 9:01 pm UTC

Wait, no, there's (particulate-free) air inside a hard drive already, that's why they have those metallic plastic bubbles on them, so that the pressure regulates in a sealed enclosure. It's not like it oxidizes.

Dust can scratch the surface, but it has to be physically caught in the head, which is hard to do since the head doesn't actually touch the platter, and modern heads have tiny aerofoils that not only maintain the head's distance but sweep a bubble of air ahead of the head which brushes away contaminants, should the seal ever be compromised. It's not a guarantee, but it does help.

And I've run a hard drive fully open to the elements; in high school a group of us made a completely enclosure-free computer and hung it from the ceiling like a mobile. It worked alright for a while. I think the power supply went out first, but then, we smoked in that room.

The most important thing here is that the data be removed, too, not just the hardware rendered unusable. If the information is valuable enough, data recovery can be done by virtualizing the bits from images scanned via something like an electron microscope; even if the surface is damaged, there's still data on it, it's just not readable by the heads.

I'm afraid the only way to guarantee that data's destruction is thermite, or possibly some kind of shooting range scenario. If you have earth-moving or military equipment, that might be an acceptable substitute, but the truly paranoid shall not settle for less than thermite.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Link » Sat Jul 18, 2009 7:10 am UTC

cmd wrote:
Atmosck wrote:
Link wrote: Be sure not to ignite it on top of or near anything you care about, because it can and will burn right through it.


Which includes, I add from experience, cement. (ie. my driveway)


Heh, what *DO* you burn thermite on top of then?

Soil, a (large) pile of broken stuff you intended to get rid of anyway, the neighbours' car, the neighbours, an anthill, Microsoft's HQ - just to name a few.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby darkspork » Sat Jul 18, 2009 10:08 pm UTC

Link wrote:
cmd wrote:
Atmosck wrote:
Link wrote: Be sure not to ignite it on top of or near anything you care about, because it can and will burn right through it.


Which includes, I add from experience, cement. (ie. my driveway)


Heh, what *DO* you burn thermite on top of then?

Soil, a (large) pile of broken stuff you intended to get rid of anyway, the neighbours' car, the neighbours, an anthill, Microsoft's HQ - just to name a few.

I like the last idea best, but if you decide to go with the first, do not burn anything on top of soil that has grass growing in it, or has roots close to the surface. If there is (or was) a large tree near where you plan to start your fire, you may want to dig up the soil at least a foot down to make sure your thermite won't start a root fire that can easily burn down trees, and other flammable objects near said trees. The best idea might be to pile dirt on top of a driveway, just to be sure. DO NOT START ANY FIRES DIRECTLY BENEATH A TREE.

EDIT: Just thought I'd share some fire safety tips :P
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Atmosck » Sat Jul 18, 2009 11:54 pm UTC

Tungsten. It melts at about 6150F.

Or, you could use a sheet of lead, and get lead gas! (Best high of your life, I swear)

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Link » Sun Jul 19, 2009 10:51 am UTC

darkspork wrote:I like the last idea best, but if you decide to go with the first, do not burn anything on top of soil that has grass growing in it, or has roots close to the surface. If there is (or was) a large tree near where you plan to start your fire, you may want to dig up the soil at least a foot down to make sure your thermite won't start a root fire that can easily burn down trees, and other flammable objects near said trees. The best idea might be to pile dirt on top of a driveway, just to be sure. DO NOT START ANY FIRES DIRECTLY BENEATH A TREE.

EDIT: Just thought I'd share some fire safety tips :P
Or you can do what the MythBusters do and take it to a bomb range or abandoned quarry. You're much less likely to get sued by anyone, too. :)

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby quartrmster007 » Wed Jul 29, 2009 5:48 am UTC

Replying to what to burn thermite on top of-

You could just get a couple terracotta flower pots, put one inside the other, cover the hole in the bottom of the one inside with a piece of paper, and put the thermite in that. Place that on a ring stand or something similar above a bucket of sand (6 inches deep for a small batch (90 grams or so)....1 foot for a mega-batch).

Source: My AP Chem teacher let me make thermite for a class project.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Atmosck » Wed Jul 29, 2009 6:24 am UTC

quartrmster007 wrote:Replying to what to burn thermite on top of-

You could just get a couple terracotta flower pots, put one inside the other, cover the hole in the bottom of the one inside with a piece of paper, and put the thermite in that. Place that on a ring stand or something similar above a bucket of sand (6 inches deep for a small batch (90 grams or so)....1 foot for a mega-batch).

Source: My AP Chem teacher let me make thermite for a class project.


And he let you do it in the classroom? My teacher has all his regular chem studants make stuffed moles for extra credit when he introduces the concept of molarity, and then launches them with a potato canon. I made one that had what can best be described as a small thermite warhead inside it, but i didn't dare bring it to school (fearing it would go right through the wall and then the floor, and i'd probably get arrested). That was almost a year ago, and we still haven't detonated it. (it has a button in the nose that will spark a magnesium strip that's more or less buried in the thermite.)

And i found out, you can get a kilo of thermite online for like 15 bucks. Much cheaper than software/hardware to write over a hdd with random bits 3 times (DoD spesification).

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Link » Wed Jul 29, 2009 8:25 am UTC

Atmosck wrote:And i found out, you can get a kilo of thermite online for like 15 bucks. Much cheaper than software/hardware to write over a hdd with random bits 3 times (DoD spesification).

Any Linux Live CD will be able to overwrite a hard disk with random bits 3 times, and most Live CDs are completely free.

1 kg of thermite for $15 is very cheap. It does take away the fun in making it yourself, though.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby quartrmster007 » Thu Jul 30, 2009 5:40 am UTC

Atmosck wrote:And he let you do it in the classroom? My teacher has all his regular chem studants make stuffed moles for extra credit when he introduces the concept of molarity, and then launches them with a potato canon. I made one that had what can best be described as a small thermite warhead inside it, but i didn't dare bring it to school (fearing it would go right through the wall and then the floor, and i'd probably get arrested). That was almost a year ago, and we still haven't detonated it. (it has a button in the nose that will spark a magnesium strip that's more or less buried in the thermite.)

And i found out, you can get a kilo of thermite online for like 15 bucks. Much cheaper than software/hardware to write over a hdd with random bits 3 times (DoD spesification).


No, it wasn't in the classroom. Mixed it inside, yes, but we went outside to witness the awesomeness.

Thermite warhead? That's ingenious. Describe a bit more about how the button-actuator works?

Link wrote:1 kg of thermite for $15 is very cheap. It does take away the fun in making it yourself, though.


That is cheap...but yeah, making it is definitely part of the fun.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Various Varieties » Sat Aug 01, 2009 9:01 pm UTC

cmd wrote:Heh, what *DO* you burn thermite on top of then?

TaintedDeity wrote:More thermite.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Unparallelogram » Mon Aug 03, 2009 3:25 am UTC

darkspork wrote:Why not just use a microwave oven? The random current induced on the platter should be enough to wipe it clean beyond all possible repair and recovery.

Might also explode the microwave. I mean I'm not sure of the details, or if this might just be an urban myth, or what. Or it might take out your microwave and a good chunk of your kitchen.

You really are better off dd-ing /dev/urandom to it or something.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Atmosck » Mon Aug 03, 2009 3:44 am UTC

quartrmster007 wrote:Thermite warhead? That's ingenious. Describe a bit more about how the button-actuator works?


It's pretty much a button that, when depressed, completes a circuit, that runs through a watch battery and a match head, which is attached (with tape) to the magnesium strip.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Carnildo » Mon Aug 03, 2009 7:40 am UTC

Atmosck wrote:
quartrmster007 wrote:Thermite warhead? That's ingenious. Describe a bit more about how the button-actuator works?


It's pretty much a button that, when depressed, completes a circuit, that runs through a watch battery and a match head, which is attached (with tape) to the magnesium strip.

Have you actually tested it? I wouldn't expect a match head to generate enough heat to ignite magnesium in any form except powder.

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Atmosck » Mon Aug 03, 2009 3:55 pm UTC

Carnildo wrote:
Atmosck wrote:
quartrmster007 wrote:Thermite warhead? That's ingenious. Describe a bit more about how the button-actuator works?


It's pretty much a button that, when depressed, completes a circuit, that runs through a watch battery and a match head, which is attached (with tape) to the magnesium strip.

Have you actually tested it? I wouldn't expect a match head to generate enough heat to ignite magnesium in any form except powder.


I haven't tested the switch, but I have lit magnesium with a match. Although it burns pretty hot, it doesn't take an extreme amount of heat to ignite magnesium (which is why it's an ideal fuse for thermite, which does require a high temperature to ignite).

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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Tillian » Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:42 pm UTC

It's ⁰F, people, not F. :cry:
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby You, sir, name? » Mon Aug 03, 2009 6:56 pm UTC

Tillian wrote:It's ⁰F, people, not F. :cry:


It's even better if you write K. Not only are you using a unit that makes sense from a physical point of view, you don't don't have make excursions into some table of Unicode letters every time you want to tell someone what temperature it is.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby Tillian » Mon Aug 03, 2009 7:03 pm UTC

Or you could type ^0F if you are using Xwin.

Unparallelogram wrote:
darkspork wrote:Why not just use a microwave oven? The random current induced on the platter should be enough to wipe it clean beyond all possible repair and recovery.

Might also explode the microwave. I mean I'm not sure of the details, or if this might just be an urban myth, or what. Or it might take out your microwave and a good chunk of your kitchen.
I have it on good (and totally scientific) authority that microwaving a hard drive is actually rather boring. They might need more power, though...
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby darkspork » Tue Aug 04, 2009 4:23 am UTC

You could always destroy it other ways. Mail it to some random place after filling it with epoxy. Leave no return address.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby LuNatic » Tue Aug 04, 2009 7:29 am UTC

Whatever you do don't use a cooking oven(them fumes are nasty). Thermite, or 30 seconds on coarse sandpaper on the platters should be more than enough to put the data beyond recovery of even the best CIA technicians.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby phillipsjk » Tue Aug 04, 2009 7:49 am UTC

darkspork wrote:You could always destroy it other ways. Mail it to some random place after filling it with epoxy. Leave no return address.

You didn't think that one through: The epoxy may be strong enough to protect the data when the bomb squad blows it up. They then may extract enough information to come knocking at your door.

Canadian Guidelines for CLEARING AND DECLASSIFYING ELECTRONIC DATA STORAGE DEVICES suggest the disk should be wiped before being sent for destruction.

From the linked document:
Communications Security Establishment wrote: In all cases, Departmental security staff must witness the destruction.

- Page 8.
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby darkspork » Tue Aug 04, 2009 10:03 pm UTC

phillipsjk wrote:
darkspork wrote:You could always destroy it other ways. Mail it to some random place after filling it with epoxy. Leave no return address.

You didn't think that one through: The epoxy may be strong enough to protect the data when the bomb squad blows it up. They then may extract enough information to come knocking at your door.

Canadian Guidelines for CLEARING AND DECLASSIFYING ELECTRONIC DATA STORAGE DEVICES suggest the disk should be wiped before being sent for destruction.

From the linked document:
Communications Security Establishment wrote: In all cases, Departmental security staff must witness the destruction.

- Page 8.

Nobody is looking for your drive at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. :P
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Re: How much heat to destroy a hard disk?

Postby elektricat » Tue Aug 04, 2009 11:14 pm UTC

Link wrote:Why not use thermite? It's easy to make and gives absolutely spectacular results. Not only will it completely annihilate the data, it will also reduce the drive itself to a puddle of molten metal. Be sure not to ignite it on top of or near anything you care about, because it can and will burn right through it.


From what Ive heard, Thermite needs so much heat to make it deflagrate, you may as well aim for melting the damn thing
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