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Explorations in Data Destruction 8: Electric Techniques

Zoz now stages experiments with high voltage as a method to demolish SSD drives and provides a general summary on destruction techniques that work the best.

Electricity vs. data media

Electricity vs. data media

I have to go really fast now with electric. There aren’t too many things in there (see right-hand image). The goal was, you know, we’ve got electricity already in the data center, so let’s do it. And especially I wanted to look at SSDs. Things I didn’t do: mass degaussing – boring to watch, I didn’t want to put you through that. EMP/microwave/RF attacks might have been fun to do, I may do that later.

Trying to blow up bridge wire

Trying to blow up bridge wire

The first thing I wanted to do was exploding bridge wire, so here’s out sketchy capacitor bank and spark gap trigger (see left-hand image). This is how we challenged that with good old-fashioned vacuum tubes. And I could not find anyone that had SSDs that were broken that they would give to me, because they are just too new. I’m sorry, I love you all, but I’m too cheap to spend thousands of dollars on SSDs just to blow them up, so I’m just using flash drives. It’s very similar. The SSD looks the same inside, it’s just flash memory chips soldered onto the board. So I think we can draw some conclusions here.

Using HV to explode bridge wire

Data still potentially recoverable

Data still potentially recoverable

Here’s what happens when you dump a lot of high voltage through a wire (watch video above). Here’s a high-speed shot of that. Happens very-very quickly. So the first thing I wanted to do was just to physically couple that to a drive and see if we could just use the force of that explosion to destroy things. Another high-speed shot – you can see in the high-speed shot that it didn’t work. Nothing happened to that chip, although, when we look at it closely afterwards,
High voltage spike

High voltage spike

the memory chip itself fared just fine but we did decap the microcontroller on the other side (see right-hand image). That’s actually blasted the parting material off the chip. But we cannot rely on this method.

So what about if we have our drives in our data center and we are hooked to powering ground and we can deliver a large voltage spike when we want to produce a spark gap or something like that? So I soldered powering ground to these flash drives (see left-hand image). Here is the real-time (watch video below), nice shot.

High voltage power spike vs. flash memory chip

Some damage done

Some damage done

High-speed – we can see in the high-speed shot that we really did some damage there. And there we can see that we blew the flash memory chip right off the board (see right-hand image). You can see all the internal leads from the chip.
Potentially feasible

Potentially feasible

We broke the chip in half and decapped it. So, nice lot of damage to that.

The one thing we don’t really know is how recoverable flash memory chips are when that’s happened to them and whether you can use microscopy techniques to get stuff back. But I’ll say it’s potentially feasible to destroy things quickly that way, at least to make it difficult to do a recovery effort on.

Inductive deformation shot

For regular drives, that’s an inductive deformation of a soda can (watch video above). So you can wrap a coil around something metal and you can do a shot through it and destroy the hell out of it. That’s 200fps. Here’s another shot of that. Obviously, there’s a big difference between a soda can and a hard disk. The other one is at 100,000fps, so you can see that this squeezes down very-very quickly. This is the other side. Basically, the whole time I’ve been talking over this slide, 10 milliseconds have not yet elapsed. So you can destroy things really quickly, and it would be really great to destroy disks that way, but the necessary power levels to do it with hard disks are currently unknown. Maybe we’ll do some real mad science later on.

Summing it up

Summing it up

So here’s the summary (see right-hand image), the most feasible methods in each category. The plasma cutter worked great in thermal. Oxygen injection, I think, could be feasible but may require complex injection. Kinetic – the nailguns were great. Damped high explosive was really fun, possibly failing the seismic part of the rules – oh well, who cares? Electric – high voltage power spike was good, but we don’t really know the forensics resistance of SSDs. Number of eyes lost – zero.

Mobile data destruction?

Mobile data destruction?

Now, just before the goon drags me off stage here, I just want to say one more thing. Mobile solutions. We’ve been talking about data centers. But when they picked up Ross Ulbricht, the Dread Pirate Roberts, they basically mugged him in a public library. They grabbed him, they dragged him away from his laptop, it was unlocked and they harvested everything they needed to put him away for life for federal crimes. These days we can very easily, with commonly available open-source hardware, develop systems that are proximity connected to our computers using Bluetooth or whatever.

Destroying data remotely

So I just want you to consider this (watch video above). Thank you very much! And feel free to come and talk to me about all your ideas for doing this later on, and then maybe we will make another DEF CON talk about this stuff another time. Thank you!
 

Read previous: Explorations in Data Destruction 7: Diamond Charge and Blast Suppression

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