DAHLGREN, Va. – Sparks flew and machinery groaned along the Potomac River in mid-January. The source was not a test firing of a weapon system, but a technical demonstration of the GigaBiter – an electronic media destroyer new to Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD).
The GigaBiter is the first machine of its kind procured and used by the Department of the Navy. It allows NSWCDD personnel to destroy various media on-site. This includes, most importantly, media storage devices – hard drives, solid-state drives and hybrid drives – but is also capable of destroying most devices. Laptops, tablets, CDs, DVDs, cell phones, computer components and the like can all be crushed and collected by the machine for disposal. The only things the GigaBiter will not be tasked to destroy are paper and tape products, due to the fire risk these materials pose.
Using the GigaBiter is straightforward. An operator places material to be destroyed in the input bay. Items then travel along an eight-foot conveyer belt into a hammer mill. This metallic maw pulverizes the items with rotating blades. The contact between the disposed media, shredders, and hammers is quite dramatic – resulting in total elimination and destruction of classified information. The results from this first pass are strips that are roughly one-and-a-half to two inches long by one-quarter to one-half inch wide.
These newly shredded strips head up a second conveyer belt – this one 18 feet long – and are fed into another hammer mill. The resulting particles must then pass through a screen sized for disposal of classified materials as per the National Security Agency’s (NSA) guidelines. The product of this final pulverization is collected in a steel drum that weighs about 800 pounds when full. While the hammer mills operate, a dust collection system captures and collects particles in a separate receptacle, which is about 300 pounds when full.
Materials collected after the destruction are entirely recyclable, and some hold intrinsic value. Rare earth metals are used frequently in electronics and their conservation is of great importance across the world. NSWCDD is currently exploring options to send these disposed materials to a company that will extract the rare earth metals.
The use of the GigaBiter reduces human resources previously required for media destruction and reduces the volume of classified data waiting to be destroyed. Before the GigaBiter’s arrival, employees manually disassembled hard drives before sending the parts to the NSA for destruction. This process was time-intensive and therefore costly, and usually done by technical staff. Sending drive components to an external site also creates an inherent potential for a security breach.
“Having the GigaBiter ensures NSWCDD data stays safe by shredding on-site,” NSWCDD Information Security Specialist Jason Gray said. “We can ensure media is destroyed properly and gone forever ensuring the data is unrecoverable.”
Thanks to the machine, all an employee has to do is simply log the item for destruction and drop it off with security. The new process frees employees from the laborious process of removing components and lets them refocus their time on technological programs and innovative projects in support of the warfighter and future fleet.
The saved time offers an incredible cost savings as well. “Our projections, based on a rate from 2020, have the machine paying for itself in 3.8 years, with expected service life of 15 to 20 years,” said Alex Malaguti, NSWCDD Physical Security and Emergency Management Branch head.