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ISSUE 17.29.F • 2020-07-27

 

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The AskWoody Newsletter
FREE EDITION

In this issue

LANGALIST: Tales from the trenches

ASKWOODY PLUS INDEX: 2020 articles — January through June

Additional articles in the PLUS issue

COVID-19: Technology in a pandemic

SMALL-BUSINESS WEBSITES: Choosing an email provider: Your biggest decision

SHORTS: Family plans: Good and not-so-good deals


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LANGALIST

Tales from the trenches

Fred Langa

By Fred Langa

Following my recounting of decommissioning a failing hard drive, readers share their real-world tips on drive destruction.

If there’s a creative way to ensure that an old drive never gives up its secrets, it would appear AskWoody readers have tried it. But a nail gun?

More on do-it-yourself hard-drive destruction

My recent column on temporarily losing 5TB of data on a malfunctioning hard drive struck a chord with many readers — especially the part about how I destroyed the drive to ensure that its data could never be recovered. (See “‘Moving house is great fun,’ said no one ever,” AskWoody PLUS 2020-07-13.)

Subscriber Tony Gore’s perspective was well put:

  • “It always seems sacrilegious to physically destroy a disk after having spent many years protecting it.”

Yes! You have to flip your mental setting from “Let no byte perish!” to “Nuke it from orbit.” Weird.

Tony might be the better person; I must confess to some warped pleasure when running a drill bit through a drive that’s eaten my data. “Bad drive! Bad drive! You deserve this!”

Tony’s solution?

  • “If you take an angle grinder to the disk and cut a slot into it, it’ll never spin again — and [the data] will be completely irrecoverable.”

And subscriber Bob Shrager described a similar approach — though with a significantly different power tool.

  • “Fred, I have even more fun when tossing out old drives. I have a power hammer, a tool that uses .22 blank cartridges to drive nails into hard materials such as concrete and brick. When I toss out an old drive, I shoot a couple of nails through it.”

(I really hope Tony and Bob are wearing good face shields.)

Slots, holes, nail punctures, and similar kinds of major physical damage will ruin the drive’s mechanism and destroy some of the data. This is more than enough to prevent casual attempts at data recovery.

But it’s worth noting that data can still reside in the undamaged portions of the drive platters. With persistence and the right equipment, a sufficiently motivated snoop might still recover sensitive information.

For that reason, mechanically disabling a drive should be the final step in the drive-sanitizing process — employed after the drive has been thoroughly stripped of its data using techniques such as overwriting (Wikipedia info), degaussing (i.e., demagnetizing; Wikipedia info), or other means.

The combination of a thorough data wipe and severe mechanical damage will ensure that a drive’s contents are effectively gone … for good! (Want to know the experts’ recommendations? See the U.S. National Security Agency bulletin “Media Destruction Guidance.”)

An unusual way to wipe any functioning drive

Subscriber Geoff Hart’s note focused on the overwriting portion of disk sanitizing.

  • “Greets! And sympathies on your loss of the main backup drive, as reported in the latest newsletter.

    “In addition to data-erasing passes, I usually copy multiple instances of the U.S. tax code to my old hard drives before selling them. So even if someone does decide to go spelunking for the erased data, they’ll have to dig through the U.S. tax code to find it. I find this suitable punishment.”

Ha! That’s a creative use of the tax code, for sure.

I’d heard of people pasting copies of movies or other very large files to completely fill drives that were failing but still somewhat operable. (If a drive won’t work at all, degaussing and physical destruction are the only remaining options.)

Indeed, overwriting an HDD’s original files with anything else — ones, zeros, or the contents of large junk files — will foil most routine data-recovery tools. It’s usually sufficient for consumer-level data-wiping purposes.

But for cases requiring a higher level of security, multiple overwrites with random ones and zeros make the old data much harder to recover, even with lab-quality forensic tools.

The commercial option: Drive shredders!

Destroying a drive or two doesn’t take much time or effort. But what if you manage dozens or hundreds of PCs, and the data on every machine’s drive must be 100 percent unrecoverable? That’s the task subscriber Bill Sampson faced.

  • “Fred. About two years ago, I was helping a colleague close a law practice. There were many old desktops scattered about the building, and, naturally, every one of them had a hard drive.

    “I discovered a place (undoubtedly, there are others) that would run the drives through a large and satisfyingly noisy grinder. It cost only a few bucks per drive. I was able to watch the entire process — from handing the drives to the machine operator to seeing them chewed into small bits.

    “So while applying a power drill makes sense for a single drive, having multiple drives professionally destroyed right before your eyes is justifiable.”

For sure, Bill. A mechanical shredding service makes a lot of sense when you need to take a bunch of drives out of service.

These shredders are awesome! A completely intact drive goes into their maws … metal, glass, and plastic confetti come out (YouTube video).

Most urban centers have commercial data-destruction services. Use this Google search to see what’s available nearby: hard+drive+shredding+near+me.

Shredding costs vary widely. But as a general rule, figure on approximately USD $10 per drive for small quantities and somewhat less for larger orders. Additional services such as degaussing before shredding, providing certificates of destruction, picking up drives, mobile shredding, and so forth will typically cost a bit more.

When it comes to making data unrecoverable, turning a hard drive into a pile of degaussed confetti is about as thorough as it gets!

Send your questions and topic suggestions to Fred at fred@askwoody.com. Feedback on this article is always welcome in the AskWoody Lounge!

Fred Langa has been writing about tech — and, specifically, about personal computing — for as long as there have been PCs. And he is one of the founding members of the original Windows Secrets newsletter. Check out Langa.com for all of Fred’s current projects.


AskWoody Plus Newsletter: 2020 articles — January through June
     
17.25.0 — 2020-06-29
Patching @PKCano A Win10 guide for Windows Update settings
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — ScreenToGif
Patch Watch Bradley June updates crash printing
Small Business Segal Eight ways to grow email lists for small businesses
 
17.24.0 — 2020-06-22
Web Development Fastie What is your Web presence?
Android Spector Three of the best Android file managers
On Security Bradley Wanted: Your views on Windows/Office patching
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — Deanna’s list
 
17.23.0 — 2020-06-15
Small Business Computing Babinchak Office tools: Something old, something new
LangaList Langa Unexpected shutdowns suddenly plague Win10 laptop
Patch Watch Bradley Windows 10 2004 is slowly rolling off the assembly line
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — Spydish
 
17.22.0 — 2020-06-08
Woody’s Windows Watch Leonhard Coming to a PC near you: Win10 2004, the ‘May 2020 Update’
LangaList Langa Is Windows’ ReadyBoost worthwhile in Win10?
Upgrading Windows Bradley Determining what’s blocking Windows 10 2004
Best Hardware Lasky Helpful items for working during the pandemic
 
17.21.0 — 2020-06-01
Hardware Fastie Terabyte update: The hard-drive price advantage
LangaList Langa ‘I hit my laptop ’cause I got angry’
Patch Watch Bradley Windows 10 2004 has left the barn
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — Marxio Timer
 
17.20.0 — 2020-05-25
Windows 10 Hay Cheap Windows 10 product keys — Are they legit?
LangaList Langa Security risks: Wired Ethernet vs. Wi-Fi
Windows Basics Bradley Setting up a new PC: The first steps
Website Development Segal Security basics for small-business websites
 
17.19.0 — 2020-05-18
Social Networking Spector Zoom: Is it safe?
LangaList Langa How USB booting leaves a digital trail
Patch Watch Bradley .NET Framework oddities and ESU issues highlight May patching
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — Open Hardware Monitor
 
17.18.0 — 2020-05-11
On Security Bradley BSoDs can be a good thing — really!
LangaList Langa A weird “Known Folders/Event 100” error
Small Business Computing Babinchak COVID-19: Protecting your customers
Office Spector The new Office for Android
 
17.17.0 — 2020-05-04
Safety Parker Simple ways to receive severe-weather alerts
LangaList Langa 750MB of undeletable log files!
Patch Watch Bradley Is it safe yet?
Windows 10 Capen Controlling Windows update downloads
 
17.16.0 — 2020-04-27
Windows 10 Bradley 2020’s Windows 10 2004
LangaList Langa ‘Overprovisioning’ your SSD
Photo editing Spector Photoshop Elements: Fun with pictures
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — Staying at home edition
 
17.15.0 — 2020-04-20
LangaList Langa Unrelenting flood of EVTX files chokes 1TB drive
Patch Watch Bradley Microsoft Office gets a drenching of updates
Photo Editing Segal Comparison: Affinity Photo, GIMP, and PaintShop Pro
Index Staff AskWoody Plus Newsletter: 2020 – Q1 articles
 
17.14.0 — 2020-04-13
Woody’s Windows Watch Leonhard Office 365 becomes Microsoft 365: Less here than meets the eye
LangaList Langa Hardware settings mess up Chrome and Firefox
Small Business Computing Babinchak Managing remote workers
Social Networking Whitney How to make friends with Skype
 
17.13.0 — 2020-04-06
Social Networking Spector Keeping in touch — from a distance
LangaList Langa When File Explorer stutters, loses focus
Backup Tannard Simple and cheap data backup and storage
Photo Editing Segal Review: Affinity Photo
 
17.12.0 — 2020-03-30
On Security Bradley COVID-19: The challenges of working from home
LangaList Langa Win10 update breaks a USB modem?
Patch Watch Bradley Win10 optional updates placed on hold
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — A Thousand Words
 
17.11.0 — 2020-03-16
LangaList Langa Hard drive runs almost continually
Security Lasky Conference showcases a tsunami of security products
Patch Watch Bradley Win10 cumulative update gets an update. Don’t panic!
Apple Mac Parker Switchers: Taking a bite of the Apple — Part 2
 
17.10.0 — 2020-03-09
On Security Bradley How small businesses are easy ransomware targets
LangaList Langa Is your deleted cloud data really gone?
Apple Mac Parker Switchers: Taking a bite of the Apple — Part 1
Utilities Capen Updates to the AskWoody Ultimate Utilities List
 
17.9.0 — 2020-03-02
LangaList Langa How to tell if software truly needs updating
Patch Watch Bradley Questions on controlling Windows 10 updating
Office Whitney Managing multiple email accounts in Outlook
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — KillEmAll
 
17.8.0 — 2020-02-24
Woody’s Windows Watch Leonhard Windows 10X: Future fireworks or another dud?
LangaList Langa Say goodbye to Windows’ screen-saver app
Win7 Extended Support Bradley More help with Windows 7 extended support
General Computing Whitney Comparing three file-compression tools
 
17.7.0 — 2020-02-17
Small Business Babinchak RIP FTP: There’s a better way to share files
Patch Watch Bradley The trials and tribulations of Windows 7
Virtual PCs Capen Making an old PC virtually immortal
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — eToolz
 
17.6.0 — 2020-02-10
Woody’s Windows Watch Leonhard Important developments in the world of Windows
LangaList Langa PC screen continually goes dark
Small Business Babinchak How we automated the Win7 ESU-purchase process
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — security.txt
 
17.5.0 — 2020-02-03
Troubleshooting Whitney Tools for monitoring drive health
LangaList Langa Locked out due to one broken keyboard key?
Patch Watch Bradley Microsoft agrees to clean up a small Win7 mess
Yearly TOC Staff AskWoody Plus Newsletter — 2019 articles
 
17.4.0 — 2020-01-27
LangaList Langa Another January casualty: Windows Media Center
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — ForensiT Transwiz
Security Lasky Remedies for common password pains
 
17.3.0 — 2020-01-20
Windows 7 Bradley Closing the book on Windows 7
LangaList Langa Win10’s default lock screen is a wasted opportunity
Patch Watch Bradley 2020 patching starts with a bang!
Woody’s Windows Watch Leonhard Say hello to the latest and greatest Microsoft Edge
 
17.2.0 — 2020-01-13
Networking Whitney How to manage your router — Part II
LangaList Langa Let your PC start the new year right!
Cloud Services Babinchak Before moving to the cloud, check the foundation
Best Utilities McElveen Make your favorite utility the default app in Win10
 
17.1.0 — 2020-01-06
Networking Whitney How to manage your router – Part I
LangaList Langa Office updates fail … and fail, and fail
Patch Watch Bradley No fireworks, closing out 2019 updating
Best Utilities McElveen Freeware Spotlight — Infinite Password Generator

 

Stories in this week’s PAID AskWoody Plus Newsletter
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Susan Bradley

COVID-19

Technology in a pandemic

By Susan Bradley

We all have good years and bad, but 2020 has been rough on everyone.

The pandemic has damaged world economies, caused untold disruptions to our education systems, put millions in financial peril, and tested our ability to socialize responsibly — and it’s not over yet.

In the face of those difficulties, I’ve been impressed and encouraged by how people have adjusted their personal lives, their work, and their businesses. And much of that adaptation involves technology. Interestingly, quite a bit of that tech is not based on Windows.


Will Fastie

Small-business websites

Choosing an email provider: Your biggest decision

By Will Fastie

Despite the popularity and widespread use of texting, email remains critical for business communications.

Business email is universal, ubiquitous, and not necessarily tied to a specific person or phone number. Its long-form nature, broad capabilities, and nearly automatic communications archiving are unmatched by other forms of correspondence.

All of which makes choosing an email provider one of the most important decisions you’ll make when establishing your business’s online presence


TB Capen

SHORTS

Family plans: Good and not-so-good deals

By TB Capen

As our tribes spend more time together, some tech vendors are offering better prices for shared products.

Dropbox: Dipping from the same pot.

Spotify for two, please.


Publisher: AskWoody LLC (woody@askwoody.com); editor: Tracey Capen (editor@askwoody.com).

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