Do Magnets Destroy Hard Drives?

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In a recent episode of Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman suggested using a magnet to destroy the data on a laptop hard drive. While the magnet they used was effective for other reasons (it was as big as a small truck and flung the laptop 20 feet across a room into a wall), a magnet in and of itself won’t affect your hard drive in the least.

Back when we used 3.5” floppy disks (you remember those, right?), it was true that magnets had a significant effect. You could place a weak refrigerator magnet on a floppy for a few seconds and destroy the data on the floppy.

But who uses floppies any more? Most modern storage devices like SD cards, thumb drives and SSDs are essentially immune to magnetic fields. In fact, there’s nothing magnetic in flash memory, so for all intents and purposes, a magnet won’t affect it at all. Bill Frank, executive director of the CompactFlash Association, even goes as far as saying that “a magnet powerful enough to disturb the electrons in flash would be powerful enough to suck the iron out of your blood cells.” Ouch.

Traditional hard drives aren’t much different. In fact, hard drive heads are powered by a magnet found in every drive. The only magnets strong enough to wipe data off a hard drive would be a degausser used in laboratories or government agencies.

So what if you want to securely remove data from a hard drive you want to dispose of? For flash memory, fill it up to the brim with useless data, delete it all and fill it up again. This ensures that each storage sector is overwritten with something unimportant and non-sensitive.

For a hard drive, you should use a program that securely overwrites every sector of the hard drive with random information. This will ensure no data is left in the unused portions of your drive. Eraser is a free program that does just this.

If you have old computers or hard drives that you’d like to dispose of securely, we can help. Minneapolis-based IT company OAC Technology can securely recycle your company’s old hardware to ensure your data never falls into the wrong hands. We also provide state-of-the-art data recovery services for virtually any kind of data loss. We can recover your deleted, corrupted, missing or inaccessible data quickly and securely. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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