Yeah, you need to watch that hard drive

| Comments (9) | COMSEC
Dave Winer is unhappy that he took his Mac to the Apple store with a broken hard drive. Apple replaced the drive but then wouldn't give it back. Winer claims they're going to refurbish it and give it to someone else and is concerned about data leakage.

I share this concern. I generally don't let others have access to my hard drive even if I expect them to give it back—for instance if they're repairing some other part of the computer. In theory, you can clean off the hard drive if it's functioning properly, so you can take a backup, wipe the drive, and then restore it when the computer comes back. But of course once the hard drive itself starts to fail, then disk wiping tools present an obvious problem, so you either need to keep possession of the hard drive, or use encryption. Encryption has the obvious advantage that you don't need to replace your own hardware, but of course it's more of a pain to use upfront and you need to worry about losing your data if you lose the encryption key (that's kind of the point, after all).

That said, I do kind of wonder whether the drive is actually going to be refurbished. Hard drive technology changes pretty fast and I wonder if it's really worth refurbishing old drives.

See also FSJ on Winer.


The interesting thing here is that Winer claims in the comments that this was not a warranty repair and that he paid for a new drive as well as the installation. If this is true, then that Apple Store took his property from him. Assuming that he didn't sign a service order of some kind that forfeited his right to the old drive, this seems illegal.

If he'd gone to an independent Authorized Apple Service Provider, they would certainly have given him the drive back. He could also have requested on-site service from an independent provider and had the drive replaced in his own office.

Why refubrish a possibly bad drive? Its not worth the risk, its scrap at best, ewaste at worst.

But more importantly, this was a MACBOOK. It is trivial to change the drive: you remove the battery, remove 3 screws holding the drive/memory shield in place, remove the shield, slide out the drive, screw the carrier onto the new drive, and close up.

It should have been done in shop on the counter, with a Yuppie Food Stamp ($20) to cover a massively overinflated labor charge.

To avoid these situations, I use an electric magnetizing device to wipe drives before I give them (as part of PCs) to any service person. I have a Radio Shack model that was handed down to me from my father-in-law, but I can't imagine they are expensive relative to the cost of data leakage.

I was under the impression that any magnetic field strong enough to really degauss the data tracks on a hard drive would also degauss the control track, rendering the drive completely useless.

OK if you know your hard drive has died. Not so good if something else is the problem.

Also, a hard drive-specific degausser is thousands of dollars. I don't think a hand held magnetic tape degausser is recommended for hard drives.

For me, destroying it is the goal. The only reason you think you need a strong magnet is the steel outer casing shield. Simply opening it is enough to use a reasonably priced electromagnet to assure that recovery will be expensive, if possible at all.

For destruction, if I care enough about the data to go to any trouble, I give it to a shredding company. Amazingly, they will put the whole hard drive through the shredder right there on site for you along with your confidential documents.

If your company (or a friend's) already uses a shredding service, this has no marginal cost.

The disk drive shredders are cool - if you do the job correctly.

Last year at RSA, I met Adi Shamir who had just visited a booth selling a machine that drills a hole in a drive. He was as impressed by this as I was. Which was to say 'he finds people wo buy it???' I would like to know just how much data can be recovered. I would expect that its pretty much the whole drive.

The exact other side of the hall there was a company with the real deal, you put the drive in and it really shreds it. The result is a little bag of twisty metal shards.

The shredder I'm talking about is the same one used for mass confidential document destruction. The one that comes in the back of a medium sized cargo truck. It turns the drive (housing and all) into the same size metal bits as cross cut shredded paper bits.

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