WASHINGTON (04/18/2000) - While most compact disc users exercise care to avoid scratching them, Roger Hutchison has built a whole business on scratching and scraping CDs to the point that they are unreadable. Hutchison has built a machine that obliterates the information-bearing layer on CDs so well that it has been approved by the Defense Department for destroying CDs containing classified information. Called a DX-CD, the machine is a steel cylinder that contains three abrasive surfaces for grinding data off CDs in seconds -- fast enough, the military hopes, to keep classified data from being captured by the enemy should a military post, ship or aircraft be captured.
Sanding the face off a CD is not as easy as it sounds when it has to be done to military specifications. The information-bearing CD surface must be ground into dust particles no bigger than 250 microns -- about the size of water molecules, Hutchison said. Those exacting specifications are intended to make it impossible to recover any information. In theory, at least, particles larger that 250 microns could be photographed with an electron microscope, sorted by a powerful computer and reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle. It would take a very determined and well-financed adversary, but it could be done, Hutchison said.
The hand-cranked DX-CD, which sells for just less than $2,500, can destroy a CD in 10 cranks, he said. The military recommends 30 just to be sure.