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Operation Destruction: Are your secrets safe?

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JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) -

Many people go through a computer every several years or so.  When it's time for a new computer, what happens to the old one?  Many people delete the files or wipe their computer, in hopes of giving it away or selling it.  What they don't realize, is that deleted information can still be retrieved.  All of your photos, tax returns, credit card statements are really not gone. 

So, how does one make sure their information, maybe their secrets are gone for good?

We put several computers to the test.

But, before we destroyed them, we first wanted to find out how they worked.  We went to our friends at Stableconvergence in Johnson City to give us a quick tutorial.  Ted Bradford and his team have pulled information from several computers their clients thought were beyond hope.

"I have done a data recovery on a machine that had been formatted twice.  So, everything erased, operating system put back on.  I pulled off the very first document that was saved on that machine," Bradford says.

Bradford says the key to retrieving data is in what's called the computer's platters.  They look a lot like a CD.  Those platters hold all of your secrets.

"This is where all of your financial data, and your kids pictures and your music and all of that stuff live on the inside of your computer," Bradford says.

I told Ted I had saved, then erased a file on all five test computers.  It was up to him to try to retrieve the file, which was appropriately labeled "Top Secret".

He and his team for  up for the challenge.

"We'll treat it like a true data forensic recovery," he says.  "And we'll go get your stuff, and we'll see what we can shake out."

It was time to put the computers to the test.

The first stop was the roof of the station.  We threw the computer off, and it did a lot of damage.  Second, the baseball bat test.  Several WJHL members got involved with this test, trying to do as much damage as possible.  Our third test took us to Stanley's on North Roan Street.  They were kind enough to destroy our next computer with a blowtorch.  Keep in mind, we didn't tell anyone in which part of the computer the secrets were stored.  Test number four brought us to Boone Lake, where our computer took a dip, and our final test was on a construction site where a bulldozer annihilated our computer.

The Stableconvergence team took what was left of the computers, and worked their magic.  Here are the results:

Computer thrown from the roof: My Top Secret file, plus many files that had been supposedly wiped from the system, were recovered.
Baseball bat: One lucky hit bent the platter enough to ruin it.  No data recovered.
Blowtorch: The heat from the blowtorch vaporized the plastic around the platters, and did some damage to the actual platters.  No data recovered.
Lake: Top Secret file recovered, PLUS other files that were wiped.
Bulldozer: Platters bent.  No data recovered.

Bradford says the best way to make sure your information stays out of the wrong hands, is to take the hard drive out of the tower of the computer, and use a hammer or bat and destroy the platters.

By the way, here is what was written on the Top Secret file:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.” - Roald Dahl


Copyright 2013 WJHL. All rights reserved. 


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