Information Security

Destructive Behavior: How to Destroy Your CD Media

Heather Wolk
APS Tech

February 1, 2001

When the data on your CDs becomes obsolete — or you need to protect top-secret, classified information  — you want to destroy it. But how do you go about doing it? Following are a few ways to make your CDs completely useless.

You’re breaking up… One way is to break the disc in half. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. We do not recommend breaking a disc by simply holding it between your fingers and attempting to snap it in two. Doing so may cause the disc to shatter, sending shards of polycarbonate flying about. A safer solution would be to place the disc in a plastic bag and surround it with several layers of newspaper (approximately 30 pages). Then pulverize the disc on a concrete surface with a hammer.

Or, cut the disc into pieces with scissors or a paper cutter. Be warned, however, that cutting the disc will keep the average Joe from accessing the data on it, but it will not deter the geniuses at the CIA or the FBI. If need be, the pieces of the disc can be reassembled and the information on them retrieved. If you are truly nervous (and paranoid), you may require an alternative method of destruction.

Nuke it. Another option is to pop the disc in your microwave and zap it. It takes mere seconds to render a disc useless and unreadable; however, this method is also not recommended, as remnants and byproducts may remain in the oven, causing subsequent microwaved food to be contaminated and unsafe to eat. Cooking your CD for too long may also cause the disc to burst into flames. Because this proves to be a dangerous fire hazard and can damage your microwave, this method is not recommended.

Do it fast, like a Band-Aid. An easy way to make your CD useless is to remove the thin, reflective aluminum layer. Place a piece of duct tape across the printed side of a disc, and pull it off in one quick jerk. Once again, it’s likely that the Feds could still find a way to replace the reflective layer and read your deepest, darkest secret data from the disc.

Quick fix. If your ultimate concern is not security, but you want to make the disc unreadable to the average person, a quick and inexpensive way is to place your disc data side down on your driveway or other concrete surface, and rub it around with your foot for a bit. You can also use a belt sander or fine sandpaper to remove the top surface until you see the clear part of the CD.

Mechanical advantage. There are, of course, vendors who manufacture machines to destroy CDs. A manually-operated machine will obliterate the information on a CD in seconds. A steel cylinder with an abrasive surface grinds the data off the disc surface into particle sizes approved by the Department of Defense, ensuring that information cannot be recovered. There is also an electric-powered machine that will produce the same results, but you will be blessed with easy push-button operation rather than having to turn a manual crank. Mechanical methods are not very cost-effective for the average consumer, but they will certainly do the trick.

Depending on your needs and the sensitivity of the data you possess, there are many ways to effectively destroy your CDs. It can be a fun and entertaining way to spend an evening. But remember, above all, safety should be your first concern.