VIDEO: Hard Disk Crusher in action
KAI RYSSDAL: If you work someplace where documents can be sensitive, you've probably got a shredder in the office. And it probably gets a lot of work. Sometimes though, the paperwork doesn't really exist on paper. Electronic files can keep your actual desk neat and tidy. But they clutter up your computer desktop something awful.
Companies are increasingly worried about how to get rid of their obsolete data. And there were some interesting solutions on display at a trade show in Washington this week, as Geoff Brumfiel reports.
GEOFF BRUMFIEL: Now I grew up in the information age, and if there's one thing I know about, it's deleting stuff. You just drag your little file over to the recycle bin thingy, drop it in, and then just for good measure, you empty it.
Easy as that, gone forever. Right?
PAUL STAMP: That data's not gone.
Paul Stamp is a data security expert at Forrester Research.
STAMP: It can still be found If you've got the right tools, if you've got enough time, if you know what you're looking for, then that data can still be found.
And according to Stamp, there are criminals who will buy old PCs on, say, eBay, and scour them for cooperate secrets, credit card numbers-anything that might be profitable.
He estimates that a single misplaced hard drive could cost a company millions in fines, restitution, and lost productivity.
At the nation's largest government technology conference, FOSE, a sort of cottage industry has sprung up to deal with the problem. It's called data destruction.
CHARLES SMITH: This is taking about 7 seconds, we're watching all the platters get mashed up so that they're unreadable. Now we release.
Charles Smith, inventor of the Hard Drive Crusher — patent pending.
SMITH: We have just prevented the escape of data.
Smith's machine is basically just a hydraulic ram than can be used to crush hard drives, cell phones, memory sticks, and, well, anything that needs crushing. At more than $11,000, it isn't exactly cheap. But, he says, it's the one way to make sure your data's gone forever.
SMITH: When you want your data gone, the trash can's not gonna do it. Physical destruction lets you know it was done and done right.
And he's not the only one in the data-destruction business. Other folks at the convention were peddling magnetic erasers, self-destructing flash drives and CD-shredders. There's even a company that will reduce your entire computer to fine dust through an enigmatic "patented destruction process."
Analyst Paul Stamp says businesses are willing to pay for that kind of peace of mind.
STAMP: The financial services industry is certainly catching on to this. Especially with the new raft of mandatory disclosure laws, which say that if you loose somebody's information then you have to tell them about it.
And as for your own hard drive, well Stamp suggests you give it a good "stomp" before doing anything with your computer.
In Washington, I'm Geoff Brumfiel for Marketplace.