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HDD question

Posted on 2014-03-12
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Last Modified: 2014-03-23
I was asked a question today and wondered what the answer might be.

A friend has recently divorced and asked me how he can give a laptop to his ex-wife with the data wiped. The laptop was purchased by him but he is worried that she might get someone to recover data through he work..  He thought destroying the HDD may be his best bet, but I guess it would have to look like an accident to an expert.

Any ideas?
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Question by:citrine
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24 Comments
 
LVL 18

Expert Comment

by:web_tracker
ID: 39925372
How about just putting a new hard drive in the computer. Then just install windows on the computer then she could never recover the data from the drive that your friend keeps. Then his wife would have a perfectly good working laptop with a new drive. You can get download the windows 7 operating system and use the product key that is found on the laptop.
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:Michael Fowler
ID: 39925401
To be sure of wiping all data you generally wipe the entire drive and then rebuild the OS. Given the effort involved and the relatively cheap cost of HDDs I would recommend replacing the HDD as oted by web_tracker.

The issue here is not just replacing the the OS but also all the drivers.

If the user has build discs supplied by the manufacturer this is easy, just replace the HDD load the discs and follow the prompts

If the HDD has a recovery partition it could be easier to wipe the drive using software and then rebuilding the OS using the tools located in the partition

If you do not have the build information on disc or on a partition then restoring the OS and drivers can be difficult. In this case either pay someone to do it or use a software tool to wipe just the sensitive files

http://www.pcworld.com/article/261702/how_to_securely_erase_your_hard_drive.html

Michael
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39925520
If he's really concerned about data that's on the laptop, there are 3 simple approaches ...

(1) Delete all of the files that he's concerned with.   Then install and run one of the utilities that will do a thorough DoD-certified erasure of all free space on the drive.    One of the easiest of these to use is File Shredder:  http://download.cnet.com/File-Shredder/3000-2144_4-10662831.html    Caution:  The download is perfectly safe; but the installer wants to install a lot of extra "crap" you don't need.   Pay careful attention to how you answer the questions during the installation so you just get the File Shredder program.

As long as your friend knows WHAT he wants to delete, that works just fine.   It thoroughly wipes not only any files you delete with it; but also all free space on the drive; so any previously deleted files are absolutely NOT recoverable.

(2)  If there's doubt about what needs to be erased; then the approach noted in the earlier posts will certainly do the job very well -- i.e. just put in a new hard drive.    This, of course, then requires that you install the operating system (which requires installation media and a valid key); and any applications that might need to be on the laptop.   If all the installation media is available, then it's not a very difficult process.   Note that many laptops have a utility on them that allows you to make recovery media.   If that's the case here, just do that BEFORE you remove the old hard drive;  then put in a new hard drive and boot to the recovery disk.

(3)  An even simpler (if a bit more costly) approach is to just buy a new laptop and give that to her :-)
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LVL 18

Expert Comment

by:web_tracker
ID: 39925547
Garycase, I love your answer number 3 it made me laugh.

Or your friend could buy a used laptop that is the same model as his or that looks like his, she may try to recover data from the previous owner... let her have fun with that.  ... RFLOL

Actually Gary gave excellent advice to create a recovery disc of the current computer, then remove the drive, insert a new one and then run the recovery software from the disc.  I think that is the least painful, except for the cost of the hard drive. You may pickup a used drive some where if your friend does not want to pay the cost of a new drive. Hard drives prices are quite cheap so it should not be too much of a burden if the user is worried about someone recovering confidential data from his harddrive.
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Author Comment

by:citrine
ID: 39925633
I think he'd rather distroy the disk and leave that in the laptop, just not sure how to cover his tracks?
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39925652
This is beginning to sound like a malicious question -- not simply someone who wants to protect HIS personal data from an ex; but perhaps someone who wants to destroy his ex's personal data in a malicious manner.

THAT is not something we can help with.  (nor condone)
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Author Comment

by:citrine
ID: 39925659
No, there is absolutely none of her data on the laptop.
Its all his, he resents the fact that she wants the laptop and wants to
give it to her with a faulty drive.

He put it to me and I dont know the answer, I admit its a little strange.
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LVL 92

Expert Comment

by:nobus
ID: 39925716
that sounds like pesting...not a good way
let your friend reconsider his attitude, and try to work out another way...
peace is better than war - in every case
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LVL 35

Accepted Solution

by:
Dan Craciun earned 500 total points
ID: 39925717
If it's his and wants to experiment breaking it, try a sledgehammer. Or a very strong magnet. Or dropping it from a few dozen feet. Or putting it in water for a few hours. Or putting it in beer/soda for a few hours.

Really, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination :)

Dan
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LVL 10

Expert Comment

by:Pramod Ubhe
ID: 39925925
remember even if you format the hard drive, there are several experts in market who can recover data.

https://www.usenix.org/legacy/publications/library/proceedings/sec96/full_papers/gutmann/

you can ask to do a low level format which will erase all the data (i believe while installing XP you get an option for low level format) or consult with an expert to purge the data (may be a costly solution) or you will get a number of tools on google to purge the data.
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LVL 18

Expert Comment

by:web_tracker
ID: 39926269
I agree that destroying the laptop is not going to resolve problems. If the laptop was purchased by him and used only by him it makes no sense that through the divorce proceedings she gets the laptop. But if she does have rights to the laptop your friend would be in trouble for destroying the laptop including the hard drive. Having to lie about how the drive was destroyed is dishonest and is not condoned.  It is better just to remove the drive and find a cheap drive and put it into the system and give the laptop to her. Just state that there is sensitive information on the drive so he replaced the drive. No court can demand that the original drive be put back into the laptop.
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LVL 35

Expert Comment

by:Dan Craciun
ID: 39926277
Considering this is a divorce there is a high chance that the data on the hdd belongs to the wife and the husband hopes she does not have backups... :)
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39927462
I'd say your original question has been answered -- we've provided several methods of ensuring there is no sensitive data on the laptop when it's transferred.

Anything beyond that (e.g. intentionally destroying the drive) is beyond the reasonable scope of what we can help with.    If the ex gets the laptop per the divorce agreement, then this guy just needs to give it to her and get over it.   Divorce is tough enough without adding to the frustration by doing malicious things.
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LVL 47

Expert Comment

by:noxcho
ID: 39929510
Buy a new HDD - and replace with it the one in Laptop. Destroy the original HDD. You are secure.
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39930362
noxcho => read the earlier posts :-)    He doesn't want a good drive in the laptop.   He wants to wipe it out, but make it look like an accident.   NOT something we should be helping with.
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LVL 47

Expert Comment

by:noxcho
ID: 39930529
:)))))) there was too much to read. Anyhow an accident could be through the laptop into bath :D
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Author Comment

by:citrine
ID: 39933244
noxcho => read the earlier posts :-)    He doesn't want a good drive in the laptop.   He wants to wipe it out, but make it look like an accident.   NOT something we should be helping with.

I agree, every now and again I am asked to do something that grates against my character. But if a paying client wants a hard drive wiped and made to look like an accident what is wrong with that? No copyright laws are being broken, no laws in any respect are being broken.

As IT people we are asked to protects data & sometimes destroy it too.
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39933293
"... But if a paying client wants a hard drive wiped and made to look like an accident what is wrong with that? "  ==>  It's simply unethical.   I wouldn't do it.

If you were a locksmith, and somebody wanted you to help them get into their house because they'd lost their keys, you'd certainly do it ... although hopefully you'd require some proof that it was indeed their home.     But what if they wanted in their neighbor's house ??     ... i.e. just because they're willing to pay for your skills doesn't mean the application they want to pay you for is something you should do.
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Author Comment

by:citrine
ID: 39933302
Yes I hear you, but its not "the neighbor's house", its his laptop (he owns the laptop and the data).
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39933307
"... its his laptop (he owns the laptop and the data). "

It's not clear that's true.    Sounds like the laptop is his wife's according to the terms of the divorce, and he just hasn't surrendered possession of it yet ... and wants you to fraudulently "break" the disk before he does so.

As I noted quite a while ago, this is NOT something we should be helping you with ... and quite frankly it's not an ethical thing to do with or without our help.
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Author Comment

by:citrine
ID: 39933319
Like I said, it grates against the grain of my character. Yet he owns the Laptop and the data, if he wants to pay for someone to break it, isn't that his choice?

I have been asked by a MD to hack a HDD to uncover business and personal data on an "out going" CEO's HDD (owned by the company). At the time it bothered me and I gave a reason why it couldn't be done at a reasonable price.

Anyway, I appreciate your advice and help.
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39933375
Actually hacking a company-owned system to recover data from a departing employee is a much more understandable task => it's not at all uncommon for disgruntled employees to do malicious things on their corporate computers; and knowing what they did is a legitimate thing for the business.    That's far more ethical than what you've been asked to do here.

As I noted above, it's not at all clear that "... he owns the laptop and the data ..." ==> if that's the case, why is he giving it to his ex-wife??    It would be understandable if he wanted all personal data deleted in an unrecoverable way; or even if he simply wanted the drive wiped.    But to ask you to do this in an "undetectable" way is clearly a malicious and unethical act.    Clearly it's your choice whether or not to agree to do this -- but it's quite clear is it NOT an ethical thing to do.
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LVL 92

Expert Comment

by:nobus
ID: 39933589
i would not help him in this case
there are more than enough wars and pesting going on already
you may loose a client - but doing things right is worth something also
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LVL 70

Expert Comment

by:garycase
ID: 39949123
Interesting accepted answer :-) :-)

Definitely gave me a chuckle ... although I suspect it's not a very useful addition to the EE knowledgebase.
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