Could someone else recover my data off this dead hard drive?

I have a dead hard drive that I’m supposed to send back to Dell, but it has my data on it. I want to make sure that no one can get at my data before I send this drive back.

Here’s the story. My original laptop HD was making annoying noises, and after some diagnostics Dell agreed to send me a replacement. I installed the replacement and loaded my stuff, and 2 days later it croaked completely. None of my boot floppies work – I get “Operating System Not Found” and/or messages to the effect that no hard drive is detected. (Yes, it’s seated properly.) I called Dell tech support and they tried fdisk and some other things, and still nothing.

Here’s my concern. They say I’m supposed to return this drive, or pay for it. But they also tell me it’s dead, and the data cannot be recovered or erased. So if it’s dead, (1) why are they so dang insistent on having it back, if it can’t be used, and (2) what do they care if I keep it and destroy it myself? Heck, I’ll send them the pieces if they want. No one at Dell has taken me up on that. They want the drive back in one piece, but I don’t really want to send them my passwords, credit card numbers, and SSN, on the offchance that they might somehow recover the data (or mistakenly send it out to someone else).

So . . . is there a do-it-yourself way to erase the data while keeping the disk physically intact so I can send it back and not have to pay $200? I’ve called around and can’t seem to find any place that can/will magnetize it for me. I read about heating it in the oven, but wouldn’t it melt (the plastic would for sure)? Granted, we’re not talking military secrets here, but I don’t see why Dell should be entitled to demand that I send them my data.

(Mods, I can see an argument for putting this in IMHO as well. Do as you see fit.)

Microwave it? As for why they’d want the drive back, they could refurbish it and send it out again to replace someone else’s drive. Yes it is possible to recover the data but not by you. You would have to send the drive off to a data recovery group like Ontrack. It takes specialized equipment to do a job like that. Dell probably could recover the drive also but it’s not very likely they would bother.
I can understand your concerns. They’re feasible but I don’t think they’re realistic. Still, if you’re really concerned, nuke the drive, then send it back.

The reason that they want it back is that they will probably get credit for the drive from the drive’s manufacturer but they need to account for it. Did the fdisk command work? That should have deleted the partition so that someone would have to really want to get the data and also have extreme technical expertise. Let’s not kid ourselves, your life isn’t that fascinating to techno-geeks is it?

Since a hard drive is mostly metal, putting it in the microwave would more likely destroy the oven than the drive.

They probably want the drive back so they can be sure that it was actually dead when you said it was dead (or, as someone else pointed out while I was typing this, get credit from the drive manufacturer). Probably the easiest way to kill it completely would be to cut a couple of traces on the circuit board (use a razor blade or X-acto knife). Yes, in theory it could be fixed, but realistically, drives are so cheap that nobody bothers.

Put a metal object in my microwave? Um, wouldn’t that create some very bad mugambo?

Yes, I realize that – in fact, this is already a refurbished drive. But Dell agrees that it’s dead and damaged beyond repair. If that’s true, wouldn’t they just throw it out when they get it back?


Understood. I don’t need that data myself – I had good backups – but I just don’t want anyone else to have it. It just irks me that they’re harassing me to send back their junk, which they agree is worthless to them, but contains info that is valuable to me.

Yeah, I suppose . . . it would be no different than a store clerk using my credit card # for nefarious purposes, or somebody with access to my SSN doing the same thing. But Dell has screwed up and lied to me so many times in the past week or two (the dead drive is only part of the problem) that I have a hard time believing anything they tell me about what they are or are not going to do, and whether they can be counted on to do it properly. THEY tell me the data can’t be recovered, but I’ve had conflicting info from them before. I just don’t trust them.

There was no drive detected, so fdisk did nothing.

No, my letters to Grandma and my screensavers probably aren’t that fascinating, but my credit card numbers (on faxed catalog orders) and Social Security number might be.

I agree with the points made so far. It just pisses me off, I guess, that Dell has been screwing me with a rusty chainsaw, and now their stupid drive is holding my data hostage.

I did take the cover off to see what I could discreetly wreck in there. I do have access to the circuit board, but further disassembly would require a six-pointed screwdriver, which I don’t have.

Thanks for your responses so far. I’ve been run over so many times with this problem, it’s nice to have people actually trying to help. :slight_smile:

I looked into this a while back. Assuming that you can’t physically destroy the drive (which you can’t here), I found a US federal regulation that required formating the HD 7 times. As to whether this is fool-proof or not, who knows? For credit card data protection, it should do.

Yes I forgot to add, do this with a cheap microwave. One you don’t mind losing. :slight_smile:

Yes, but my point here was that the amount of work required to carry out this scheme makes it unfeasible. The hypothetical store clerk doesn’t need specialized equipment and a lab to get your cc #. If Dell doesn’t provide any data recovery type services and I don’t think they do, they aren’t going to let their employees have access to the tools needed to carry this out. How’s the employee going to justify spending the time to recover some user’s data?

Scarlett, that’s why God made magnets.
If you took the cover off (probably a warranty voider, but hey, it’s your warranty) then all you need to do is get yourself a magnet, preferably a strong one, and run it over the whole thing, inside and out, but especially near the disks. This will wipe it out as effectively as possible for someone with the resources of an average user.

Is some of the data recoverable? Yes, with advanced techniques that can rebuild even parts of demagnetized drives. But Scarlett, if the Department of Defense really wants your data that bad, then they’ve probably already got it.

You’re welcome, my bill is in the mail.

Take the cover off the hard drive and apply a magnet directly to the platters. Run the magnet along both sides of all platters, and your data will be pretty much FUBAR

HEY! My first simulpost!

It is possible for an amateur to get data from a dead disk. If you have another computer and you don’t care you are ruining the disk. I once had a computer with a dead disk and of course it hadn’t been backed up. A friend and I connected it to another computer and tried to get it going. It wouldn’t start. We shook it; we kicked it, but no dice. Finally, we ignored all the warnings about voiding the warranty and opened it. One of the screws (hidden under some alluminized tape) required a special screwdriver, but fortunately our computer tech had one. Then we simply pushed it to start and got all the date in about a half hour. Then discarded it. So sometimes you can recover.

I had always heard that diskettes should be kept away from telephones, so maybe placing it under the phone would help. Trouble is that the metal case will exclude magnetic fields. I wonder what voltage it uses. Maybe hooking it up to 110 AC will render it useless. But it would probably melt the electronics while not destroying the platter.

If you really want to ruin the data on your disk, go to a junkyard and convince the owner to run one of those big magnetic cranes over it. That will scramble anything on the disk to the point where it’s pracitcally impossible to pull the data off, though grinding the platters into dust would really make sure.

In practical terms, your personal information simply isn’t going to be worth enough to Dell for them to want to try to recover it if the disk is really dead. It’s possible to put the disk into a clean room and replace the motors, to put the platters under a new set of heads, or even reconstruct data from the magnetic residue on the edges of the disk, but it’s pretty unlikely that they’d actually go through the trouble. I know data recovery outfits charge in the neighborhood of $10k for this kind of service, so it’s not trivial.

The most likely reason why Dell wants the disk back is to be sure that you’re really returning a bad disk and not just getting one for free, and whoever their disk supplier is has a similar motive if Dell is going to get credit for it. It’s hardly an unusual arrangement, and those conditions were very likely in the service agreement you signed. If you are so deeply concerned about the information on your disk being misused that you can’t follow their standard procedures, you could just pay the cost of the disk and don’t send the old one back.

Beware what you consider to be a dead disk.

a) How many OTHER operating systems did you use to try to access the disk? Mac and Unix can often get a FAT16 or FAT32 disk to mount when Windows will not, for instance.

b) The disk platters themselves might be fine and the arm or spindle mechanism confuckulated. Someone with a steady hand and a good work environment might be able to lift them out and swap them into a similar HD mechanism and get it to spin up, especially if they have several old defunct hard drives around and don’t mind risking head crashes. Even little ol’ amateur me, I was able to dismantle a Jaz drive (a Winchester mechanism same as most hard drives) and move the dual platter thingie from a ruined cartridge that hadn’t mounted since 1996 to another that I cannibalized, and on the 4th or 5th attempt got it assembled in such a way that it span up, mounted, and let me copy files from it to my hard drive.

Regarding the magnet thing, if you have any friends in the hospital ask them if they’ll run it through the MRI.

Why would someone like Dell care whats on the HD? Certainly they must have rules that prohibit
anyone from using said data?

Use a degausser. It’s a huge magnetic plate used to erase videotapes. The TV station at my old college had one, as well as the local public access TV station. Just about any business that uses lots of video tapes should have one. Might even be something you can look up in the phone book.

A couple swipes across that puppy, and nobody’s gonna be reading that drive.

Oh for God’s sake this whole exercise (as some have noted) is absolutely idiotic. If you deliberately damage the drive Dell might not (with good reason IMO) honor the return credit. The chances of some one at Dell being interested enough to 1: do the laborious technical pushups required to recover your personal data and 2: risk criminal prosecution in the process, are about as likely as being hit by a meteorite. If that’s the level of paranoia with which you want to live your life God bless you, but there are probably more pressing things you could be worrying about.

>> It just irks me that they’re harassing me to send back their junk

Hmmm, sorry but it’s their junk and I see why they want it back or everybody would be claiming bad disks to get some more free ones. The answer is very simple: If your piece of mind is worth paying for the disk, then buy it. If it is not worth that much, then return it. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with erasing the information if you can do it but damaging the disk intentionally would void the whole thing.

I can tell you right now that I would not send my disk to get credit for it but I would be willing to pay the cost.

Any Dell employees who see this thread are going to get a good laugh from the idea that they might consider your data worth trying to read.

Oh for God’s sake all right I get it. It would be more trouble than it’s worth to someone else retrieve my data, and I’ll send the darn thing back. So sue me for wanting to protect my personal information, and I know perfectly well that anyone who is out to screw me is going to do it regardless. You can be darn sure I would have formatted the drive a few times before sending it back if that were possible, but that was not an option. I had read conflicting info on the Web about how easy the data would be to recover. I asked for technical advice here and I got it. Thank you to those who gave it.

You may now go back to lambasting me for being a paranoid twit. Or better yet, since I have no further question or comment, perhaps a kind mod could lock this puppy up.

Scarlett, who made her 3rd request today for Dell to send her a working HD