Haunted hard drives: Why you need data wiping for data that just won’t die

by | Oct 16, 2023

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You can’t see it, it follows you everywhere, and one day it may attack you when you’re least expecting it. It’s not a vengeful ghost. It’s the personal data you let out into the world on a hard drive that you failed to clear through data wiping.

Knowing how to wipe a hard drive and prevent old data from falling into the hands of bad actors is important for everyone—from Fortune 500 companies to grandparents saving images of their grandchildren on their home computer. Keep reading to see how haunted hard drives could affect you and why data wiping will set you free from them.

Why should you care about data wiping?

To most people data breaches are sophisticated attacks that take place on a digital battlefield they never see. The truth is the most damaging data breaches happen when bad actors exploit our real world behaviors that we would never expect to be dangerous, like when a hacker breached Uber by pretending to be an IT worker who needed an employee’s login credentials.

What separates an easy-to-spot phishing email from a targeted social engineering attack that delivers ransomware to a small business? Personal data.

While backing up data is important, knowing how someone speaks, their habits, and what keywords will grab their attention can all be found in leaked personal data. That’s why scammers are using AI chatbots to steal data.

So, when you throw away, sell, or recycle a computer you must be sure it’s going out with a secure hard drive first.  If you don’t then you’re sending out personal data that will be impossible to retrieve and could haunt you for years to come.

That’s why throwing away your old computer or an external hard drive without proper data wiping could leave you in a world of hurt. As one person who looked through trash for valuable computer parts put it, “The hard drive (or solid-state drive in recent years) is where all the data is stored, so if you dump that, anybody can just take it out and read it. It’s like leaving a journal out on the kitchen table.”

Bad actors could find your data and use it without you ever knowing. Pictures of you and your family along with personal data like addresses could be used to imitate you online or to pressure you so you comply with demands during a cyberattack.

Why data compliance matters for companies of all sizes

Any business with customers handles customer data of some sort. If that customer data includes names, addresses, and bank account information in a paper file, you would never throw it away without destroying it.

So why would a company not wipe old data that contains the exact same information from a hard drive before throwing it away?

It’s especially important that companies that handle protected private information, like healthcare data have established data wiping guidelines that are followed to a tee. After all, the average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million, an increase of 15% since 2020.

It can be much, much more if your company handles protected personal healthcare data due to resulting HIPAA fines and damage to your company’s reputation. In fact, the average cost of a healthcare data breach was $10.93 million in 2023.

How to wipe a hard drive

Now that you know the importance of wiping a hard drive, you’re probably wondering what steps you need to take to securely do so.

You can always physically destroy a hard drive with magnets, a shredder, or nails and a hammer, but even those methods are not completely secure and require more effort than a software wipe.

Wiping a hard drive with a software specifically designed to destroy or overwrite the files on it is often the most secure way to destroy personal data. Follow these steps for a secure software data wipe!

Lastly, you should also know the difference between destroy, erase, and wipe to make sure a data wipe is the right choice for you! Learn more about data and security on the Quantum Fiber blog, and don’t forget to see how Quantum Fiber’s lightning fast fiber optic internet can jumpstart your internet speed.

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author avatar
Michael Erpenbach
Michael Erpenbach is a writer who dived into the world of tech after his first job installing electronics on houseboats. Since then, he has specialized in cybersecurity and finding solutions for his dad’s tech issues. When not writing about technology for Quantum Fiber he spends his time reading, falling down coffee-centric rabbit holes, and finding excuses to go outside.
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