Hollywood IT, the real world, and wiping disk drives

NOTE: This is not the “IT” mentioned in the previous post. THAT is still coming. IT IS COMING IT IS COMING!

Hollywood IT

Hollywood IT is what you see in movies. What Hollywood scriptwriters and directors think is Information Technology. The only connection between Hollywood IT and real IT is they both use the word “computer”.

Here’s some Hollywood IT: Any password for a hypersecure system can be guessed in only 2 tries. Even though such systems don’t allow their users to use easily-guessed passwords like the user’s first name, somehow the user’s password is their first name. Failing that, all you need to do is type OVERRIDE and you’re in.

But here’s an example that pertains to the real world.

When we saw the most recent Bourne movie, a whistleblower stole a flash drive of super-secret information from the CIA. It held 3D animations, video, full documentation, plans, scans of all project reports, etc, all about the project that produced Bourne and the other assassins. Maybe a gigabyte total?

Once plugged into a computer, a virus on the drive notified the CIA that someone was reading the flash drive. Worse: Sharing the files with someone else. This Must Be Stopped or we’ll be un-CYAed, bringing about The End of the Free World.

In the movie, the CIA’s computer whiz hacker remotely finds a hackable smartphone near the laptop, somehow uses that to hack the laptop, and starts erasing the flash drive. (Why didn’t they just use the laptop’s wifi connection that the virus used to report in the first place? Eludes me.)

A few minutes later, it was done. I presume to full government disk wiping standards. Not just sequentially translated through 256 random languages on Google Translate into unreadable gibberish.

(Technical note: Encryption via Google Translate cannot be cracked. But you may find the output in the instruction manual for that cheap MP3 player you picked up at a garage sale.)

A real world situation

When I see something that still works, my first few reactions are: “It still works. Someone else could use it.” (Actually, that’s my second reaction. My first reaction is: “How can I still use it?” I’m that sort of person. I HATE throwing away things that still work. Or could be fixed. Explains the junk I’ve collected.)

So when I recently replaced a 1TB hard drive with a 2TB drive, I found it very difficult to apply the Sacred Hammer of Divine Data Destruction to it. That would be sacrilegious.

“This still works.” And it’s a resalable size.

Well, any size drive is still resalable to someone. I’m sure someone still uses an old favorite computer that can’t handle terabyte sized drives. Or maybe they’re allergic to anything newer than Windows 3.1. Or: “DOS and this IBM PC were good enough for my grandpappy, so it’s good enough fer me.”


Since I’m not selling my personal data with the drive, I decided to wipe the data. Hollywood IT says it should be fast and simple.

Wiping disk drives

There are many tools for wiping drives. You Windows and Mac users can Google up your own searches for tools to do that. I wouldn’t be a good adviser since we don’t use either of them here.

Using a common Linux utility for securely wiping disks (wipe), I tested wiping 48GB sitting in a folder on the drive. Now this is a 7200RPM, SATA3 drive, with a 64MB drive cache, not a flash drive. I’m sure wiping data on a flash drive goes faster.

And it finished … 30 hours later. A lot longer than a few minutes.

Lest you think that’s just very slow software, I checked regularly using Linux’s useful “htop” command. The wipe process spent almost all its time waiting for the drive itself. The bottleneck is the drive. Any software wiping this drive, regardless of intelligence agency, will hit the same bottleneck.

The MMC (Magic of Mathematical Calculation) tells me that wiping the full terabyte drive will take about 25 days.

25 days. To wipe a drive that sells on eBay for $32.

Spending five minutes sacrilegiously wielding the Sacred Hammer of Divine Data Destruction sounds like a much more practical idea, doesn’t it?

In Hollywood IT, they’d have Thor do it.


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