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Explorations in Data Destruction 4: Kinetic Methods

This part of Zoz’ research is a 101 on HDD demolition through physical damage rather than heat, so find out what techniques he leveraged and how it all went.

Kinetic techniques

Kinetic techniques

Alright, moving on to part 2 – kinetic (see right-hand image). The goal here was to deform, spindle, mutilate the drive, basically, severely retard any form of mechanical scanning to be done after the fact. And so, obviously, as I said at the start, that would have to be used in conjunction with degaussing. Degaussing is not fun to watch, so I did not do that. I had a bunch of ideas but I didn’t do all of them. One was to do a horizontal hydraulic crusher that would fit in 1U and just squeeze the drive to bits. I was pretty sure it would work, so I didn’t bother doing it. I wanted to use some other high pressure cutting tools, but, again, that was just for fun, because to build a water jet cutter into your data system is just probably a little bit infeasible.

Concrete nailgun ruining a cinderblock

Instead, I wanted to start off with some percussive methods. One of the tools that I’ve used a lot in my place is this concrete penetrating nailgun (watch video above). This uses a propellant charge, basically, a 22 caliber blank to drive nails into concrete. This happens so fast that at 480fps you can’t even really see the nail – it just is long gone through this cinderblock. Here’s another shot with this. You have to hit it with a hammer, this particular tool, to make it go. You have to do something a little different for actually doing on hard disks. But you can see there the plastic that holds the nail in the barrel fly out, and you kind of slightly can see the nail.

Hard drive hit by concrete nailgun

Good job, concrete nailgun

Good job, concrete nailgun

I milled the end off the drive so that we can see what happens (watch video above). Well, it’s spinning and we hit it with the nailgun – boom! No problem at all going through the cast aluminum, bottom of the drive, and through all the platters. This actually cracks the cast aluminum. There’s a close-up of it (see right-hand image). You could build an array of these things. It just punctured the disk in multiple places. So I think – totally feasible.

We also had a pneumatic nailgun around, and I didn’t have high hopes for the pneumatic nailgun, because it didn’t involve any form of chemical propellant or explosive. So I was like, you know, how good is that gonna be? But let’s give it a shot anyway. I didn’t even use a new drive for it. But it turns out, it goes straight through the fucking drive (watch video below). Really nice!

HDD damage from pneumatic nailgun

Flat pancake cylinder

Flat pancake cylinder

And it uses a big flat pancake cylinder (see right-hand image). The one that’s on this particular nailgun is big, but you could quite easily build a low-profile pneumatic cylinder that would fit in your extra 1U that you have according to these rules and just punch through the drive in a whole bunch of places.
The nails went through

The nails went through

So, quite nice. There’s a close-up shot of those nails (see left-hand image), just got all the way through. And they went out the other side.
Totally feasible

Totally feasible

Again, totally feasible. So, thermite – 0, nailguns – 2.

The real fun part

The real fun part

But this is what we’re really excited about (see left-hand image), right? This is why we came here. There’s no doubt that we can destroy drives with high explosives. We also get thermal factors as a bonus, we can do explosive welding. So the goals for me here were, alright, let’s see if we really could confine this explosion to the rack equipment; and I personally had been wanting for some time to experiment with some new techniques: a binary liquid explosive, and 3D-printing shaped charges. And then, another sub-goal here was, for me personally, to pass Go, collect $200 and not go to jail for this.

FELIX

FELIX

So, let me introduce what I’m calling FELIX (see right-hand image). This is a commercial high explosive, a liquid binary. It is expensive, I did not want to pay for it. So I decided to clone it. I’m not going to say its real name, but it rhymes with FELIX, and I’m calling it “Field Expedient Liquid eXplosive”. It’s very similar conceptually to Tannerite and KinePak, which is ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder as a sensitizer. I reverse engineered it from the commercial product. It’s based on nitromethane. As a sensitizer I used stearic acid coated, 5-50 micron aluminum.

That means, these individual components are simple to ship – they are just HAZMAT. They are not explosive until they are mixed. This is the stoichiometry. I still don’t know the ideal ratios, but that’s the reaction. So the nitromethane is the high explosive, it decomposes by itself. The aluminum acts as a sensitizer, but the aluminum then is consumed by the water produced by the nitromethane decomposition. So it adds energy to the mixture.

Legal facet of the research

Legal facet of the research

Alright, the legal thing (see right-hand image). I thought that with my friends, who have a federal high explosive manufacturing license, we’d be all set. They have possession license and they have high explosive manufacturing. It turns out, we found right before we were supposed to do this project that it’s not just the feds who care about this shit, and you have to get a State Type 2 License as well. So were like “Oh fuck! Are we gonna be able to do this in time?”

We just managed to get it done in time. So we were all legal and legit and we could do this stuff. The big thing that we needed at the end was to have a range where we could do this, because the state wants to inspect your manufacturing facility. And we said, well, you know, you understand what’s going on here, right? This is these two things, and wherever we mix them – that’s the manufacturing facility. Too bad, they want to know where you are going to do it.

So we ended up, very luckily, finding a local bomb squad that would let us use their range, so that was really nice. As a result of all of this stuff, my friends and I are actually forming a consulting group. So a little plug here – if you want to ever do this kind of work, then talk to me because we can now do it. Even though it’s kind of regulatory hell, being in regulatory hell is better than being in prison.
 

Read previous: Explorations in Data Destruction 3: Beyond Straight Thermite

Read next: Explorations in Data Destruction 5: The Munroe Effect

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