New device wipes CD-ROMs clean of data

What looks like a bomb, sounds like a coffee grinder and can destroy a compact disc's contents in 40 seconds? A new device, called the DX-CDe, which pulverizes the data layer on CD-ROM and CD-Recordable discs so that it cannot be reconstructed, even with an electron microscope and a supercomputer.

The machine, unveiled at the FOSE show last month by Mar-Tech Custom Computing, Glen Burnie, Md., is designed to provide a foolproof way to destroy data in a hurry. It is aimed at Defense Department and foreign policy officials who may have to protect classified information from falling into the wrong hands, said Duane Marquis, managing director of the company.

Marquis and his partner, Roger Hutchison, president and chief executive officer of Golden, Colo.-based CD-ROM Inc., "became aware [that] there is a requirement to be able to destroy any classified material the government produces,'' Marquis said. "This has been very critical overseas and in embassy-type situations.''

Demonstrating the 2-foot-tall device, Marquis explained that unless the reflective layer on a disc is ground into minuscule pieces, an enemy with enough time and computing power could read whatever had been stored on the disc. "The real challenge is destroying CD-Recordable media,'' he said, because "the reflective layer comes off in large flakes.''

The solution is to grind up the data twice. First, one grinder scrapes off the data layer from the disc. Then a second grinder reduces the data layer to the consistency of baking powder. The gray dust can be swept away. What is left is the plastic disc, which can be thrown away.

There are other ways to get rid of data on CDs, such as removing the data chemically, "which has environmental hazards,'' Marquis said. Grinding up the information has "no known [adverse] impact,'' he said.

In case of a power failure, the machine works manually. This is important because, if an embassy is attacked, for example, "the first two mortars over the wall are aimed at the backup generator,'' Marquis said.

The final product cost $300,000 to develop. It is available on CD-ROM Inc.'s General Services Administration schedule contract for $9,995.

Although Marquis is targeting customers with classified information to protect, he said anyone who holds sensitive material would be able to use the device. Any agency that holds data protected by the Privacy Act might want it to destroy personnel records, medical records and similar data, he said.

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