What are the Different Methods of Data Destruction?

Ritu Roy | data wipe Forensics How to's Software Technology | 6 minutes read | Modified on: 07-02-2023
data destruction methods

There are many different methods for destroying data. Based on things like the type of storage device, internal policy directives, audit and compliance requirements, logistical and financial limits, technical knowledge, etc., a business needs to select a technique that will work for them. The three most different types of data destruction methods are described in this section, exactly:

#1. Overwriting (aka Data Erasure)

The Overwriting approach works by replacing non-sensitive data or binary patterns for the target data that is present in every user-addressable memory location. In the business world, overwriting is also referred to as data erasure, and it is carried out with the help of specific software tools. The addressable storage areas on the media are overwritten by the data erasing software using particular binary patterns and passes that follow international data erasure standards like NIST 800-88, DoD 5220.22-M, etc.

Benefits of Overwriting / Certified Data Erasure:

  • Creates a Reusable Device – The residual value of an asset can be monetized and the erased storage device can be used again.
  • Speedy and Scalable – Software-enabled overwriting can quickly delete a lot of devices at once.
  • Convenience – The use of GUI-based tools can be convenient.
  • Universal Media Wiping – According to NIST Guidelines, the Overwriting procedure can clean hard drives, including HDDs and SSDs, floppies, magnetic discs, and more. A file eraser tool may delete integrated storage found inside devices like cellphones as well as loose or detached storage discs.
  • Compliant – Professional data wipe software comes with built-in functionality for generating certificates for audit trails (reports) to fulfil compliance requirements.
  • No E-waste – Compared to degaussing or shredding methods, produces no electronic waste.

Disadvantages of Overwriting

  • Does not function on media that is damaged or unrewriteable, such as optical disc

#2. Degaussing

The Degaussing method, which is based on the demagnetizing principle, uses a degausser to neutralise the magnetic field of magnetic storage devices, such as hard disks, erasing the data that was previously stored there. Degaussing is an older method compared to overwriting or data erasure, making it less suitable for erasing data from developing magnetic media with stronger magnetic fields or complex manufacturing processes, such hybrid drives.

Existing degaussers may not have enough force to degauss emerging magnetic storage media, and they should never be used for flash memory-based storage devices or magnetic storage devices that contain non-volatile non-magnetic storage, according to the NIST SP 800-88 Guideline.

Advantages of Degaussing:

  • Works with inoperative hard discs
  • Destroys the information on magnetic storage media, including hard drives, digital magnetic tapes, floppy discs, etc.

Disadvantages of Degaussing:

  • Does not operate on storage devices that use flash memory.
  • Eliminates the device’s usability and any remaining hardware utility or value
  • The degausser needs to be physically present at the site to sanitise the HDDs, which might be problematic if data destruction is required across many locations. Erasure software, on the other hand, can begin data wiping remotely via the cloud.
  • A greater total cost of ownership is caused by factors like a high acquisition cost and the requirement to purchase numerous degaussers for various sites.
  • A degausser can only degauss a certain number of “loose drives” at once, in contrast to contemporary erasure software that can wipe thousands of drives and devices simultaneously.
  • Due to offline or local operations and the mostly manual nature of the work, maintaining a long-term and consistent repository of the audit trails could be difficult.
  • Results in environmentally hazardous e-waste.

#3. Shredding

Shredding is a form of physical destruction that breaks down storage devices including smartphones, hard drives, solid-state drives, USB flash drives, and optical discs. It shreds (breaks down) the mechanical and electronic components, as well as the storage media like the drive platter, into extremely small (2 mm) bits. Physical disintegration results in the destruction of the data that was stored in the media. Due to logistical and cost limitations, shredding and other physical destruction procedures are not always practical “On-Site,” that is, on the company’s facilities.

When a storage device must be transported to a facility for off-site destruction, there may be a risk of data leaking since there may be a break in the chain of custody while the media is being transported. The risk of theft and data leakage persists even after storage drives are inventoried at a warehouse for future shredding. Due to extensive human contact and transferals throughout the chain of custody, many probable data-leakage threat scenarios including shredding develop.

Advantages of Shredding/Physical Destruction

  • Can, if done properly, guarantee data destruction
  • If correctly carried out, destroys the data and device forever.

Disadvantages of Shredding

  • ‘Chain of custody’ risks of data leaks that are inherent
  • May yet have a chance to retrieve forensic data from improperly shredded media, such as a drive platter.
  • problems with logistics for shredding in smaller spaces
  • produces hazardous e-waste

What Method Should I Use for Media Sanitization and Data Destruction?

Depending on the kind, volume, and state of the storage media, the sensitivity of the data, and any other factors you may think of, you can select any data destruction methods.

If the targeted storage device supports and is appropriate for the selected data destruction methods, it is a factor to take into account when selecting the data destruction methods.

For instance, you cannot utilise software designed for the device if it is not supported by it or is not functioning. In these situations, the only alternative is to choose a physical destruction method or methods.

Similarly to this, you would select data eraser software rather than a physical destruction approach if you wanted to reuse a working device after data deletion (s).

Overwriting Vs Degaussing Vs Shredding: A Fast Comparison

A comparison chart of several data destruction strategies, techniques, and categories is provided below to help you in selecting the most appropriate data destruction method:

Comparison ParameterOverwritingDegaussingShredding
ProcessIt is executed by data erasure software.It is necessary to use a degausser device, which may be a coil degausser, capacitive degausser, or permanent magnet degausser.There is a shredder.
MechanismOverwrites the storage media’s addressable memory locations.The magnetic storage device is demagnetized.The storage system breaks down.
Devices SupportedHard disk drives Solid-state drives USB flash storageSmartphonesTapesHard disk drives Magnetic tapesFloppy disksHard disk drivesSolid-state drives USB flash drive magnetic tapesOptical driveSmartphonesIntegrated memory (Point-of-sale device, motherboard, etc.)
ScalabilityIt can scale up very well. The software has the capacity to simultaneously delete thousands of discs and devices.Scalability is restricted. Degaussing is only possible on a few drives.For limited or volume shredding requirements, the organization can contract with a provider; however, the turnaround time would be longer given the transit and processing times.
EfficacyHigh – To achieve failsafe data destruction, a secure and professional data destruction tool performs the overwriting process with several passes and verification in accordance with international standards like NIST 800-88.Low – Degaussing the developing magnetic storage could be difficult since it requires a magnetic field that is powerful enough to negate the polarity of the magnetic media.High – Devices can ensure to protect against the threats of data recovery once they have been properly shredded in the requisite dimensions, albeit they might not be environmentally friendly.
Ease-of-use and ConvenienceData Wiping Software with a graphical user interface (GUI) provides a simple way to wipe the devices without necessitating additional steps like disassembling or removing the disc from the host computer.Manual use of a degausser device available only from service providers requires technical knowledge.Shredding is a specialist skill that is exclusively offered by companies that provide IT asset disposal services.
Reuse / Resale ValueThe storage hardware’s residual value is preserved by overwriting or erasure to enable ongoing use or monetization.makes the device useless, removing all of its value.destroys the gadget entirely, preventing its reuse.
Environmental ImpactNo Impact – doesn’t produce any electronic trashproduces harmful environmental e-waste.creates harmful environmental effects from e-waste.


Modern data deletion strategies, methods, and procedures were extensively explored in this article. Furthermore, we discussed how these methods compare to one another in terms of their applicability, efficacy, practicability, costs, results, etc., as well as their benefits and drawbacks. When you need to develop appropriate data destruction methods, these parameters offer essential insights.