Thursday, July 16, 2009

Brave New World

I came across an interesting example the other day that illustrates how most people still don’t understand this new digital world of ours.

This particular party had just finished upgrading to a new PC. They had conscientiously copied all their data across and reinstalled all the applications. Once it was up and going they decided that they no longer had a need for the old PC. Rather than donating it to a worth cause (which is what I recommended they do), they decided to take to it with a hammer in an attempt to “destroy” it.

Now I will admit that the box certainly didn’t look like a PC when I saw it but I asked them whether I could test a theory of mine. They agreed and I proceeded to extract the hard disk, which seemed ok physically just a little scratched, and see whether I could read the information that was on there. Low and behold, in manner of moments I could see all the data. So the hard disk remained intact and well enough to be read, even after being subject to some pretty heavy physical abuse.

The owner was utterly shocked that it took me so little time to recover their precious information. “As you can see”, I pointed out, “it isn’t very hard at all”. So what should they have done? They needed to destroy the digital information digitally. How can you easily accomplish that? Use Darik’s Boot n’ Nuke.

All you need to do is download the software and use it make a bootable CD. Pop that into the drive of the computer, allowing it boot from the CD and follow the instructions. The time required to completely erase a drive will depend on its size but afterwards you can be pretty sure there ain’t anything left there for someone to recover.

I was intrigued with the contrasts between the two different ‘destruction’ methods and their results. It illustrates that even thought most people use computers these days and are generally comfortable with them they really have not concept of the idea of ‘digital information’. It is like a completely parallel universe. As Mr. Spock might have said in this situation “No, Jim. We must destroy it digitally. It can’t be harmed any other way”.

If you really want to spin people out about the differences that digital data bring to their lives explain to them how all the information they are uploading to the Internet has to live on a hard disk somewhere. Now ask them what happens when that gets “retired”? Is it digitally erased? How would you ever know? The reaction I get from most people is most interesting.

Even though we may live in a brave new world, seems to me very few people really understand what that means.