David Zax

A View from David Zax

"Data Killer" Erases the Evidence

Need to wipe that hard drive fast?

  • May 16, 2012

Think of it as a paper shredder for the digital age.

Data lingers. And when you’ve accrued a lot of sensitive data, and don’t want anyone to find it, sometimes the only option is to erase it. That’s why Platform of Japan has made the bluntly-named “Data Killer.” Pop a hard drive (or, with larger models, even an entire laptop) inside the data killer, and presto: the slate’s wiped clean.

How does it work? Simply enough. Since data is stored in magnetic alignments (this bit oriented north, this bit oriented south, and so on), a sufficiently strong magnetic field can change all the alignments to face the same way. Suddenly the code is written all in the same letter – which is another way of saying it isn’t code for anything anymore. Data Killer works not only on hard drives, but on any form of magnetic media, like video tapes, for instance.

All of which gives me a great idea for a movie…

“It erases data instantly,” said Michisi Nanayama, Platform of Japan’s CEO, in an interview about the Data Killer. “If you have data you need to get rid of, Data Killer can do it without taking lots of time.

DigInfo spotted the device at the Information Security Expo, and put together one of its inimitable flat-affect YouTube videos.

I have two questions related to the Data Killer. First, since it’s not exactly as though Platform of Japan discovered magnetism, or has patents on all forms of magnets, isn’t this something that DIYers can do, well, themselves? An episode of Tekzilla recently explored the process of using magnets to erase hard drives–the technical term is “degaussing.” It’s hardly the only YouTube video on the subject out there.

The other question is whether the Data Killer is really thorough in exterminating every last bit of data on a disk. Digital forensics is capable of remarkable things; and often even hard drives that appear to be wiped still retain traces of data. “To really destroy data you need to go above and beyond simply erasing the information,” says Max Eddy over at Geekosystem. “To make sure that information can’t be recovered, or partially recovered, you actually need to physically destroy the disk.”

All of which makes me wonder who Data Killer is really for – someone wealthy enough to buy a dedicated device for degaussing, yet not wealthy enough to buy a new laptop? Someone serious enough about erasing data to need a semi-industrial way of going about it, yet unserious enough to be willing to let traces of data potentially linger on the device? It doesn’t sound like much of a market to me.

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