Even with the rise of cloud computing, flash drives still remain among the most popular means of quickly transferring and storing large quantities of data on computers, both for personal and business uses.
With that said, as with any hardware at the end of its cycle, an old flash drive will need to be discarded. However, because of all the valuable data that you may have amassed on it over time, simply throwing it away isn’t a wise option due to the danger of its data potentially becoming accessible to someone unknown and unauthorized. Alternatively, you can keep it stored in a drawer, but that, in practical terms, poses an even greater risk.
Remember, formatted data is still recoverable as deleting doesn’t actually destroy the data, it merely renders it unreadable by the computer. So, what are your real options? In this article, we will be discussing various commonly utilized methods on how to destroy data on a flash drive permanently and highlight to you their pros and cons.
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Certain software applications allow you to authentically erase all stored data from your computer. They achieve this by writing a stream of meaningless data on all sectors of a drive, effectively replacing all the original content with it.
However, this method may not be all that effective, especially in the case of USBs and SSDs. This is because of the issue of data remanence. Certain sectors of the drive, due to media degradation or other errors, may become inaccessible. Thus, a software overwrite wouldn’t work in such parts.
- Does not destroy remnant data
Unlike hard drives, data on flash drives can be potentially vulnerable to drowning. This is because most flash drives feature an onboard encryption system. This means that if their circuit boards get damaged, the data stored in the memory cannot be decoded, and thus, become inaccessible.
Of course, simply throwing your flash drive into a pool of water won’t damage the electronics – you probably will need to open its watertight housing to expose the circuit board. Once wet, power it up to fry its circuits.
The downside is that not all, especially some of the older ones, may carry with them an onboard encryption system. So, drowning in that scenario would be of little or no help in rendering it completely inaccessible.
Furthermore, even if the data is encrypted, it doesn’t mean it is completely foolproof against unauthorized access. Highly determined hackers can (and have) cracked into the encrypted data through a variety of means.
- Zero costs
- Data isn’t actually destroyed, only harder to access
Degaussing is a method of data destruction where powerful magnets are employed to distort and rearrange the polarity of particles, in turn, converting the data into virtual gibberish. While this sounds convincing on paper, how effective is it really in practical terms?
The answer? Not much – even with conventional HHD, this practice is questionable in its actual effectiveness. Meanwhile, in the case of flash drives, it is almost completely useless. The memory chips on USB and SSB drives are not actually built from magnetic materials, and there is no mechanical function. Hence, there is little chance that passing it through a magnet does any real damage to its stored data.
- Zero costs
- Grossly ineffective
Despite what Hollywood and other entertainment media may have taught us, microwaving your flash drive does not guarantee the full destruction of its data. This method simply isn’t reliable or effective, for your USD, SSD, or any other storage drive for that matter. If anything, you might end ruining your microwave instead.
It might have been the case with older flash drives, but modern ones made to be quite durable. At best, if you manage to take it out of its casing, you could fry its circuits, but then, as mentioned earlier, it would make it harder, but not impossible, for someone to access the stored data.
- Zero costs
- Not very effective against newer flash drives
- May damage the microwave
- Possibly dangerous
Shredding a flash drive into tiny pieces is obviously going to be a very effective way to permanently destroy your data. However, doing it yourself might not be too practical, especially if you are a business owner.
You have to finely crush a memory drive to guarantee not even one big enough shard of it remains for anyone to potentially take legible data from. Lacking experience, this can be a difficult task for a member of your staff to perform reliably, especially when it is hundreds of such discarded drives that would be needed to be taken care of.
Then there is also the issue with traceability and auditing. To avoid fines, you will have to prove that the data destruction was conducted in compliance with the defined laws and regulations.
Your best option? Hire the professionals to do it for you. Carrying the needed equipment and industry experience with them, they can guarantee complete and safe destruction of your stored flash drive data. They will also provide you will a Certification of Destruction after the disposal to help with your audit needs.
- Incredibly effective at destroying the drive
- Safest way of disposing of drives
- Regulations compliant
- May be costly
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