Five years ago a Chinese fighter plane forced an American spy plane to land on Chinese soil. Several U.S. military secrets were recovered from an hard drive on board of the plan and since this accident U.S. researchers have been looking for a way to quickly erase everything on computer hard drives.
The researchers concluded that permanent magnets are the best solution. Other methods, including burning disks with heat-generating thermite, crushing drives in presses, chemically destroying the media or frying them with microwaves all proved susceptible to sensitive, patient, recovery efforts.
Permanent magnets for erasing magnetic media have been available since the dawn of disk drives, but the team found that commercial systems were either magnetically too weak, too large and heavy or could not meet air-safety standards. Instead, the team crafted a new generation of super-powerful magnets to penetrate hard disk enclosures to quickly erase magnetic media. Special high-strength magnets as powerful as those in medical imaging equipment proved sufficient for permanently erasing all information on a disk drive in a single pass.