That’s Not What “Destroy the Data” means…

Or, Tales From The Help Desk, Ch. 2

Our remote office mailed us 2 .45 slugs.

As with most of the stories in this series, this happened when I was running the hardware team at a decent size, D.C.-based consulting firm. One of our branches was a software development company that we had acquired some years previous to my arrival. And their main office was actually in Austin, Tx. That location will be important later.

Only in Texas does destroying computer hardware involve guns.
Austin is, despite rumors to the contrary, in Texas.

Because. Texas.

Being the team that handled all of the computer hardware for our customers (internal employees), I worked closely with our information security team. Seeing as how we were in the healthcare world, and that HIPAA is a thing, this only made sense.

We had to implement a system whereby we could verify that any hard drive we were decommissioning had been erased according to DOD standards.

In short, that meant that the drive had to effectively be erased 7 times. This is done by changing every 1 to a 0, and vice versa. 7 times. You know how everything on a computer boils down to 1s and 0s, right?


OK, so every piece of information on a computer, from the Facebook Messenger app, to the operating system files, to the “middleware” that facilitates all of that software talking to the hardware, it’s all just a series of millions of 1s and 0s. This binary language is the true universal language of our time.

Damn it, is my geek showing again?

Let me tuck that back in.

So, we set ourselves up with what my team called the “wiping station,” because said team consisted of 8-year-olds, apparently.

not that kind of wiping, for fuck’s sake.
No, that’s not what I meant…oh, never mind.

Redundant data destruction? Yes, please.

This station was simply an old desktop computer with no network connection, 4 USB drive bays that could hold 2 drives each, and software that did the 1 > 0 > 1 flipping. Each drive took anywhere from 1 hour to a fucking eternity to wipe, so we generally set up a full bank of drives first thing in the morning and just checked on the progress throughout the day or whenever we happened to walk by. When one drive finished, it was swapped for a new one and the newly scrubbed drive was tossed in the disposal bin.

Hard drives are harder to destroy than you might think.
What? You didn’t know old hard drives work just like record players?

The ironic part is that drives we weren’t going to reuse were physically shredded. Doesn’t that make the 7-pass wipe seem, I don’t know, redundant?! Sigh. At least our system didn’t take THAT much time away from slightly more useful activities. You know, my guys surfing Reddit and me answering the same frickin’ email for the 8th time that week.

I digress.

Where was I…Oh yeah.

So when this remote office joined the company network, they ended up with several servers that were no longer needed. As with any tech company, they did the logical thing and left them sitting in the corner of the server room for several years.

One day their system admin got a wild hair…that’s not fair. They had an AC unit go down and in the course of setting up a “Texas AC” (several construction air movers, blocks of ice from Walmart, and a lot of plastic bags taped into tubes) he decided it was time to make the server room navigable again and remove the trash.

That system admin was one of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with. Before sending us the drives for disposal, he emailed Infosec to ask about the protocol for sending HIPAA drives via USPS. And he CC’d me. Like I said, awesome.

Ready for Texas? Here it comes…

Here’s where the story takes a Texas-size detour. Infosec gave him the advice that in order to avoid any potential data theft or loss during transport, he should “make the drives unreadable.” Seem vague? Yeah, it did to our hero sysadmin as well.

Apparently, when you tell a Texan to render something unusable, their English to Texan Babblefish says:

“shoot it.”

That’s not what ‘destroy the data’ means…oh, never mind.

And, because Texas, someone had a .45 in their truck.

And evidently, multiple gunshots in the parking lot of an office park don’t raise anyone’s radar there. Remember, the main office was in DC. Radars would be raised.

In fact, they would be screaming and we would be on lockdown.

Anyway, like I said, Texas.

Fast forward a week or so and I’m unpacking a box from Austin. 4 laptops for decommissioning, check. 3 rack-mounted routers for reuse, check. Hard drive with 2 .45-size holes in it, check.

Wait, WHAT?!?!

Happy Wednesday to me…

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