Meet Bustadrive, a home-made hard disk destroyer

14 Aug 2009

If your job involves having to destroy hard disks and make sure that their data is impossible to recover, you’ll know that it can be an expensive business: properly disposing of each hard disk can cost between £5 and £10 and, when you’re managing the IT affairs of potentially large businesses, these costs can mount up.

One IT Manager has had enough, though, and taken the matter into this own hands by creating the Bustadrive, a machine that uses a powerful “hydraulic punch” to physically deform a hard disk, rendering it virtually unreadable.

The Bustadrive is a product born out of the many frustrations of Ross Waterton, who spent “years decommissioning PCs” and handing hard disks over to destruction companies in a “readable state” but only being given a certificate to let him know that his disks had been destroyed and the data on them hadn’t been accessed - but that wasn't enough for Waterton, who would have preferred a more water-tight solution.

Waterton built the prototype to use with his own firm’s hard disks but also lent it to friends within the industry – “who all suggested that [Waterton] manufacture and sell the unit”, especially when competing hard disk crushers were “expensive in comparison” to the Bustadrive.

Opinions were mixed when the device arrived in the PC Pro office, though – while I loved the machine and could see exactly where Waterton was coming from, other members of the team doubted that the bent platters of our pair of test disks were actually unreadable. To verify Waterton’s claims, we contacted data destruction companies to get their take on the Bustadrive.

Richard A. Tanfield-Johnson, from ITGreen Computer Recycling, said that “simply chopping the platter in half wouldn’t remove the data” and confirmed that it could be recovered – but the costs of retrieving any remaining information “would be prohibitive”. That’s because you’d need “something along the lines of an electron scanning microscope” to read the data from the remains of the platter – and those currently sell second-hand for at least £40,000.

Tanfield-Johnson also confirmed that, once you’d cracked open a hard disk to extract the platters within, recovering any data would become even more difficult, because you’d need “the same model and make of [circuit] board” to access each track of data on the disk. So, unless you’re willing to spend tens of thousands of pounds, it looks like your data is safe.

Andrew Speedie, a security controller for Secure IT Disposals Limited, concurred, and explained that there are two ways to generally recover data from hard disks – keyboard recovery and laboratory recovery.

Keyboard recovery is only effective when the disk is “mechanically undamaged” and the disk can be plugged into a PC and software can recover the data – and the Bustadrive certainly doesn’t leave disks mechanically undamaged.

Laboratory recovery, meanwhile, “requires specialist equipment” to read disk platters and sometimes has to be conducted by hand, which can take a huge amount of time “depending on the level of damage”. It’s fair to say that laboratory recovery will be beyond the scope and budgets of those looking to recover data from the average hard disk, with Speedie unable to give names of the specialist organisations who can perform such tasks.

The Bustadrive, then, looks like it’ll thwart all but the wealthiest and most determined of hard disk hackers – and, costing just £200 to buy and with a £75 hiring option being considered, it’s far cheaper than both competing products and other services that offer to shred, crush and destroy hard disks. If you destroy a decent number of disks then the Bustadrive could pay for itself within weeks.

Waterton claims that if you invest in the Bustadrive it’ll become “as essential as a screwdriver” – so, if you’d like more information on this unique product and would like to find out more, visit Bustadrive's website.

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