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Understanding how to securely sanitize hybrid and SSD drives

Understanding how to securely sanitize hybrid and SSD drives

For years, all computers and servers read data off a hard drive disk system. Used since the 1980s, HDD-equipped devices store data on a magnetized platter that is read sort of like old vinyl records. When asked to retrieve the data, the computer will locate it somewhere on the disk.

While this method can store terabytes of information, it can get slow to retrieve all data in this fashion. This, in part, is why the solid state drive was invented. SSDs utilize circuit-based hardware to retrieve information almost instantaneously.

Any IT tech expert will be able to instantly tell the difference between using a HDD and a SSD. 

As with any tech, SSDs also have their flaws. Circuitry can be damaged and they are less secure than traditional drives. Still, executives might wonder why SSDs have not replaced HDDs, given the speed boost. While a solid state allows for quicker data load, it is a newer technology, meaning that larger drives are still being invented.

To combat the smaller data pool, companies invented hybrid drives – or devices that use both a HDD and a SSD – to store data. While these devices improve upon HDD and SSD limitations, they can present a problem for secure data destruction.

The move to solid state data made machines faster but it has also made physical data destruction less secure.
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The move to solid state data made machines faster but it has also made physical data destruction less secure.

"There are two distinct hybrid systems used by Microsoft and Linux OSs."

Different styles of hybrid drives
For starters, there are two distinct kinds of hybrid systems used by Microsoft and Linux operating systems. The first is a dual-drive hybrid system. This device actually has two separate data storage units inside of it. One is a traditional HDD while the other is a SSD.

These devices store the vast bulk of data on the HDD. Any information regularly or recently retrieved is copied into the SSD unit. This allows users to access the data they consistently use with incredible speed, while being able to store a vast library of information.

A solid state hybrid drive is different. This hardware stores a significant amount of flash data into an drive that also has the magnetic platter for increased file storage. SSHDs have improved performance over other hard drives since the solid state data contains boot information (to start the machine quickly) and frequently used data (to enable workers to access the files they need faster).

These devices boost productivity in every machine they are installed in. They represent a vital part of an upgraded office infrastructure, allowing companies to be more profitable.

The Apple Product
As always, Apple thinks differently. According to Ars Technica, Apple's fusion drive is essentially a solid state hybrid drive that only uses SSDs 24 gigabytes or larger in size. Unlike other hybrid drive technology, Apple's fusion drive has only been around for the past five years. It accomplishes the same goal – combining the strengths of both styles of data storage to deliver a product that is fast-acting but can still hold a vast amount of information.

How to dispose of a dual-drive hybrid system
A dual-drive hybrid system should be treated like it is two data products because it basically is. When decommissioning this device, employees need to degauss the HDD and destroy the SSD. Degaussing is a process that involves a concentrated magnetic stream to alter how the HDD reads data. Once the magnetic field has been shifted, it can never be shifted back – all that data is virtually unreadable.

SSDs, by contrast, are more difficult. They do not contain magnetic platters so degaussing is not an effective strategy. This hardware should first be rewritten several times. Given, however, that it is part of a two-drive system and not its own independent unit, this will mean rewriting both drives. Users may want to make sure they have also only accessed meaningless files recently, as these will be stored on the SSD space, potentially overwriting older, more valuable information.

Once the data has been rewritten at least twice, the SSD drive should either be destroyed or shredded. Products like the Proton PDS-88 solid state media shredder are safest as these devices meet the standards set by NIST, HIPPA, ISO and PCI regulations.

When destroying confidential data, be sure to use a product made especially for that purpose. A hammer and nail will not suffice. To be completely sure all data is destroyed, the HDD may be shredded or destroyed after being degaussed.

Throwing an item out does not make it safe. Landfill shredders, though powerful, are not designed to shred hard drives so they can no longer be read.
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Throwing an item out does not make it safe. Landfill shredders, though powerful, are not designed to shred hard drives so they can no longer be read.

How to dispose of a solid-state hybrid drive
Solid state hybrid drives need to be thoroughly purged before being disposed of. As they inherited both hardware's strengths, they must also adhere to each set of rules. The HDD portion of the hybrid drive should be degaussed.

After this is done, the media can be destroyed in a shredder or destroyer. Companies should remember that, just because one drive breaks, does not mean that the other has stopped working. Drivesavers Data Recovery stressed this feature as a perk of using a hybrid system. Hybrid drives must never be assumed safe until they have been degaussed and are in pieces.

Knowing which products use hybrid drives
Hybrid drives are primarily found in larger devices like PCs and servers. The HDD component is too bulky for smartphones and smaller tablets. They are also not found in IoT-enabled tech like printers or copiers.

Due to their speed and data storage capabilities, hybrid drives are only used where companies would benefit most from their placement. Please ensure that all computer and server hardware is safely sanitized on site before it is decommissioned.

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