How a Simple Magnet Can Ruin Your Computer

Technology can be fragile if you aren’t paying attention.

Running a small business is already difficult enough without encountering technical problems lurking around every corner. From viruses, to scammers, to crashes, there are an abundance of potential issues threatening your company.

One you may not expect is what can happen from having a simple magnetic clip in the wrong place. Here’s how you could mess up your business’ computer and maybe your day by simply having a magnet in the wrong place and what you can do to avoid it.

Why Magnets Can Hurt Computers

A computer’s hard drive is where you store and retrieve files, including your system’s operating software. The way most hard drives work is through a magnetized, rotating disk called a platter.

The platter contains billions of tiny sections, each one of those areas is independently magnetized (to encode a 1) or demagnetized (to encode a 0). Magnetism allows you to store information even when you turn off your computer. That’s because when you magnetize a piece of metal, it continues to stay magnetized until you demagnetize it. In a very similar way, the computerized information (data) stored in your computer’s hard drive stays there even when you switch the power off. This is how your computer stores all of its information.

This system of magnetization generally works well, however computers can encounter an issue when the hard drive encounters outside magnetization. This can spell bad news for your computer. All the billions of data points that are embedded into your hard drive via magnetization or demagnetization are scrambled. Ones become zeros and zeros becomes ones, in a pattern that your computer cannot decipher into readable data. This can easily ruin your computer’s ability to access its central drives — such as its operating system — and your files. These files become not only unreadable but also irretrievable from the hard drive itself. This means all of your client’s data, ongoing projects, and excel sheets essential to your company become scrambled and unusable. When a hard drive runs into strong enough magnetic forces, you will lose your files.

So what can you do to make sure that this does not happen to your company’s computers? And what can you do in case it does?

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“Computers encounter problems when the hard drive encounters outside magnetization.”

What You Can Do

There are several things you can do to minimize your company’s risk.

Foremost, ensure that your employees understand to be careful when deciding to attach magnets to their company computer towers. Also, make sure employees understand that in no situation should they attach magnets to any company laptop. Laptops are particularly vulnerable to magnets because of the central laws governing how magnets work. Over distance, magnets’ strength decreases by a lot. A double in distance causes the force the magnet is applying to a hard drive to drop to a quarter of its original strength. But the closer a magnet gets, the reverse is true. This means smaller devices are especially vulnerable. 

Thankfully, many phones do not use hard drives that are vulnerable to magnetic damage. 

It is in your company’s best interest to employee a general computer hygiene guideline that informs employees to avoid magnets getting anywhere near any business technology just in case. Damage to company files can not only ruin your day, but also require costly system repairs and updates to reverse system file damage. And this doesn’t even measure the financial losses that may result from losing unrecoverable personal files that can occur if someone introduces your hard drive to strong enough magnetism.  

So How Much Should You Worry?

Many hard drives today have protective measures built into their hardware. These somewhat impede the influence of magnetization from outside sources (including those cute little magnets Jill from accounting loves to put all over her new company’s computer!) however, these measures only work so well. As long your company’s office doesn’t have an overabundance of super strong magnets, your hard drives should be fine in the short term, but long-term the magnets proximity to your hard drives could have serious consequences.

To make sure you keep your company’s files safe, take the additional step to set up regular computer backups for all of your company’s equipment. Backups will create a copy of all of your personal files, software, and information present on your computers.

If you don’t know how to set up an automated full system backup for all your workstations, feel free to give us a call and one of our Tech Masters will give you a hand.

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