There's better ways to dispose of data than putting laptop in bin

Should anyone who works or worked for News Corp want to destroy data for any reason, they would be better off burning and bashing at a hard drive rather than dropping the electronics in a nearby bin. 

The former chief executive at News International, Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested on Sunday, had a laptop found in a bin near her home. It has been suggested a cleaner thought it was rubbish and accidentally placed the device in the bin, while husband Charlie looked for it with a team of builders.

We have approached a number of experts in cyber security and hard drive data on the best way to dispose of data. 

According to Tom Rattray at Tierra Data’s voicemail, the sure fire way to keep a hard drive’s contents secret means battering the platters.

Mr Rattray told TechEye: “It’s all about perception. To make sure no information is ever retrieved from the hard disk you need to take it out and destroy the platters. This can be done by bashing them out but this is a very public thing to do and it will be noticed.”

“Another thing to do is overwrite every byte of the hard drive through adding more code.”

He tells us: “Let’s say a laptop owner hadn’t done any of the above. Yes, you would need a password and username to get into the PC but that’s easy, and even if he or she had encryption the password probably could have been found on the hard drive anyway.

“If he or she had deleted the files and emptied the recyle bin then of course this could have been recovered, and you don’t need paid-for software to do this, there is lots of open source software that’s available.

“To sum it up you need to destroy the platters in a hard drive to ensure people can’t get to your data.”

Theoretically speaking, if, instead of putting your device in the bin or bashing a hard drive platter off with rocks, there are other ways.

Raj Samani, CTO for EMEA at McAfee, tells TechEye: “If you have super sensitive data there are other options to obliterate the hard drive in a furnace by melting it down and rebuilding it up again.”

However, there are less radical methods for wiping data.

“A recent survey showed that PCs on eBay and those sent away to foreign countries had in fact still contained banking information of celebrities as well as that of the public. These PCs had apparently been cleared by so called hard drive deletion companies,” he told us.

“In order to ensure your information is deleted or kept safe properly there are a few things to consider. Firstly just relying on the password and username isn’t enough. Also, hitting delete and emptying the recycling bin isn’t going to help.

“A lot of systems now have encryption, which goes someway to making a PC and data on a hard drive secure as you can set it to scrub data if passwords are entered wrong after a certain number of times. 

“Companies out there also offer to securely scrub your PC’s hard drive through software. 

“When I wiped my data I used software and then did it again with another piece just to be sure. It comes down to how much of a risk you’re willing to take.

“Another thing to consider is what the device is.

“10,000 mobile phones are stolen in London each month according to the Met Police and there could be data on that, similarly with paper files as well as USB sticks.

“It’s important to secure any device you have. Not just to delete your hard drive.”

* Meanwhile, Sabu, of LulzSec, claims the password to Rebakah Brooks’ News International email account was the same as The Sun’s tip-off line, according to JGC.org, highlighting the importance of a secure password.