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Data Destruction Method Comparison


Security Level



  • When executed using approved devices, NIST rates physical destruction of media ss the most secure method sanitization. After media are destroyed, they cannot be reused as originally intended.
  • Highest level of security: assures that data is unrecoverable by any commonly accessible means.
  • Large amounts of media can be destroyed at once.
  • May be used in combination with electronic data destruction methods for certain high security scenarios
  • Different types of media can be destroyed simultaneously.
  • Cannot provide verification of the destruction process as required for regulatory compliance unless electronic data purges also take place prior to physical.
  • Hard drive or other media is no longer usable; econmically wasteful, environmentally questionable.
  • Typically outsourced to a metal destruction or incineration facility, which may compromise control.
  • Specific safety, hazmat, and special disposition requirements.
  • Solid State media requires special destruction methods in order to be effective.

  • Highest security rating that does not involve physical destruction of the hard drive.
  • Does not destroy hard drive; the drive may be reused or sold.
  • Portable solutions are effective for on-site purging because no software need be loaded onto the PC.
  • Green solution uses less energy than other methods.
  • Can be significantly faster than clear methods.
  • Provides certification and a defendable audit trail.
  • No safety or hazmat issues.
  • Some solutions require that drives be physically removed from the PC.
  • Poses the risk of leaving drives in a locked state if not administered correctly.
  • Not usable if hard drive is damaged.
  • Only supported by ATA (SATA / IDE) drives.

Software Overwrite (Clear)

erasure software
  • Rated by NIST as equal to firmware-based purging and does not involve physical destruction of the hard drive.
  • Hard drive may be re-used.
  • May be deployed over a network.
  • Widely available commercially or as freeware for low volume requirements.
  • Some solutions offer validation and reporting utilities.
  • Viable for in-house computers.
  • Quality tools can offer an automated audit trail with detailed reporting.
  • May be time consuming, especially for multiple passes.
  • May have high long-term, usage-based costs.
  • Not portable for off-site hard drive sanitization.
  • Not usable if the hard drive is damaged or is not writeable.
  • Not all overwriting tools are able to erase data on the locked/hidden sectors, thus compromising data security.
  • Many freeware/shareware tools exist which perform an incomplete erasure putting a company at risk of a data breach.

  • Highest security rating that does not involve physical destruction of the hard drive, although the hard drive is rendered unusable.
  • Capable of destroying all the data on the hard drive, especially older units (especially hard drives that require a weaker electromagnetic field).
  • Relatively fast process.
  • Can also be used to destroy data on other magnetic media.
  • Destroys hard drive permanently; not a "green" solution.
  • Cannot provide verification of the destruction process as required for regulatory compliance.
  • May be less effective on newer drives with thicker shielding.
  • Drive must be physically removed from the PC.
  • Generally requires a third-party vendor and may compromise care, custody and control protcol.
  • Cannot be used for Solid State Drives or Flash media


  • Not considered by NIST as a viable means of removing data
  • Easy
  • Allows easy access to files and should not be considered a secure solution.
  • Does not offer a formal record of data destruction