Is smashing your hard drive really necessary?

Destroying your hard drive with a hammer was the best way to avoid your data falling into the wrong hands when throwing away your computer, a study has advised.

Which? Computing issued the advice after it learned that identity thieves were looking through council tips and internet auction sites like eBay to find discarded PCs and laptops.

The magazine claimed thieves would use specialised software to recover the data deleted by the original owner, letting the thieves commit acts like credit card fraud.

Which? Computing editor Sarah Kidner said: "It sounds extreme, but the only way to be 100 per cent safe is to smash your hard drive into smithereens."

However, some experts and vendors have suggested that smashing hard drives to destroy data was expensive, environmentally damaging and completely unnecessary.

Data backup and software recovery vendor Acronis said that the study completely ignored the fact that there were "ultra-effective" disk cleansing solutions available, which had been used by government agencies and big corporate companies.

"In the current economic climate, individuals and businesses across the UK are choosing to re-use, re-cycle or donate older laptops. Wiping hard drives securely is a simple process and costs just a few pounds," it said in a statement.

"Laptops or PCs can now be safely passed onto a new colleague, sold to a third party, or donated to a charity such as Computers for Africa."

Graham Cluley, security expert at Sophos, agreed that smashing your hard drive wasn't necessary. He claimed that it was very easy to think that you had destroyed a hard drive when in fact you hadn't, as it was possible to extract data from severely damaged hard drives.

He said: "You are probably going to do more damage to yourself taking a sledgehammer to a hard drive than the chances perhaps, of your data being stolen, with bits lying here there and everywhere."