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Explorations in Data Destruction 3: Beyond Straight Thermite

As Zoz keeps experimenting with thermal methods to completely ruin HDDs, he tries more substances based on thermite and draws some interesting conclusions.

How about thermate?

How about thermate?

So alright, I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I know that in military thermite grenades they actually don’t use straight thermite – they use what they call ‘thermate’, which is 70% thermite and 30% barium nitrate (see right-hand image). What the nitrate does is produce extra gas to move everything around and spread around, and it also burns hotter.

So here’s 15 grams of thermate inside the drive (watch video below). Much more violent, as you can see. And here is a high-speed shot of that, just to titillate everyone. The top of this drive, by the way, is screwed on really hard, but that doesn’t matter for the thermate, it’s happy to pop it open a little bit and spray out like crazy. It’s actually producing much more sparks and debris and so on than the plasma cutter.

Giving thermate a shot to destroy a hard drive

But, you know, we could still probably deal with this if it works. This just goes and goes and goes. I don’t remember the frame rate this was shot at, probably 240 or 480. Anyway, that happens for a long time. So, I carefully opened it up with a glove this time. Quite impressive compared to the straight up thermite. I guess there’s a reason why the military uses this formula.

Crud on the platters

Crud on the platters

So I had high hopes, I was happy. Taking a closer look at the platter, there’s all kinds of crud all over it (see right-hand image). Molten iron has been spread about the place.
Probably still recoverable

Probably still recoverable

And then when we clean off, though, we see some good things (see left-hand image). There’s some iron that welded itself to the read head. We had some pretty good heat deformation of the platter there, and we’ve welded the platters together over here.
Thermate didn’t really do the trick

Thermate didn’t really do the trick

But ultimately, most of that platter is probably still recoverable by electron microscopy techniques and stuff like that (see right-hand image). So once again – fail.

Another thermite-based substance

Another thermite-based substance

Well, there are other types of thermite. For example, copper thermite (see left-hand image). So exactly the same thing happens: it’s copper oxide and aluminum, the oxide switches over, 4.4:1 (copper oxide:aluminum) by weight. It’s a very aggressive thermite (watch first video below).

So let’s see what happens when we stick as much as we can of that (watch second video below). Oh, first of all, I thought, well, that stuff rules, it really surprised me how fast it went, so maybe the slurry will work with this stuff.

The aggressive copper thermite

HDD destruction attempt using copper thermite

It made up one of the best slurries, so I blowtorched the shit out of it, and it burns a lot better than the iron thermite slurry. But still, the reaction is very much retarded by the slurrification agent.

Copper thermite vs HDD, slow motion

Anyway, let’s stick some of the drive, not slurry version, and see what happens (watch video above). We can work on the drive delivery mechanism some other way maybe. This is another high-speed shot. Keep watching, because, once again, the lid of this drive is really screwed down tight, and you’ll see the lid exiting stage right. But keep watching, because you will also see the drive eventually coming from somewhere airborne. This experiment coated most of the workshop in copper, so everything in there is now going to have excellent conductivity.

Damage on the inside

Damage on the inside

So that’s the inside of the top plate (see right-hand image). You could really make some nice art with this technique, so I’d like someone to tell Eddie the Yeti to really go and kick things up a notch over in the vendor area. That’s what the drive itself looks like (see left-hand image below).

Top view of the drive

Top view of the drive

You can see it has really got everywhere, as you would expect from that shot. And looking closely at the platter, you can see that it has stuck a lot of things to the platter.

Elemental copper fragments

Elemental copper fragments

You can see elemental copper has pulled all around the drive (see right-hand image),
Still to no avail

Still to no avail

looks pretty nice.

So let’s wash it off and see how things really look – boo to you, copper thermite (watch video below). Some of it stuck, it definitely made a bit of a mess, but ultimately we have to say “Infeasible but fun”.

Not too much damage from copper thermite

Crucible with thermite

Crucible with thermite

Alright, time to get serious here. And I thought, well, the way people would really talk about thermiting drives is they get a whole bunch of thermite in a crucible above the drive and just try and melt straight through it (see right-hand image).
Making the thermite case

Making the thermite case

So I thought, well, let’s see if we can do this in 1U. So I built a ceramic mold that would fit in 1U if I made it little more carefully. 250 grams of straight up iron thermite.
Case ready for some thermite

Case ready for some thermite

What I did was use a piece of Styrofoam to fill the interstitial space in that ceramic material, made it match exactly to the drive so that I could clamp it on (see left-hand image above). And there it is (see right-hand image), all that area filled with thermite. Let’s see if that’s enough (watch video below).

As you can see, my careful containment worked perfectly. Incidentally, the workshop has a large area rug on the floor. This shot set a significant portion of that rug on fire.

HDD demolition shot using thermite case

Nodules and clumps

Nodules and clumps

That looked so impressive! Surely, there can’t be too much left of the drive that we just did that to. Once again, I’m now taking no chances with how hot things are after doing this stuff.

So we can see plenty of elemental iron that has pulled into little nodules and clumps on top of the drive, and it’s made its way through the top of the drive, through that little hole there (see right-hand image).

Some clean platter left

Some clean platter left

And inside, it has certainly made a mess of the drive electronics, but I’ve already brushed that with my finger and I’ve seen that we still have plenty of nice clean platter in there
The method’s no good

The method’s no good

(see left-hand image).

Look at that. It looks almost as good as new. So, unreliable (see right-hand image). Next time someone says “Oh yeah, drive destruction, thermite – no problems,” just remember that they are a huge heat sink and you’ll need a lot of thermite to do it properly.
 

Read previous: Explorations in Data Destruction 2: Thermal Techniques

Read next: Explorations in Data Destruction 4: Kinetic Methods

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