How can I securely erase a hard drive?

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Answer #: 1

Securely erasing a storage device

There’s a command-line utility in Ubuntu called shred, which overwrites data in a file or on a device with random bits and bytes, making it nearly impossible to recover.

First of all, you need to identify the name of the device. This might be something like /dev/sdb or /dev/hdb (but not like /dev/sdb1, as that’s a partition on that device). You can use sudo fdisk -l to list all connected storage devices, and try to find your external hard drive there. Make sure that this is the correct device, as picking the wrong device will erase data on that device instead. Make sure to unmount all currently mounted partitions on that device, if any.

Then type:

sudo shred -v /dev/sdb

(replacing /dev/sdb with the name of your device). shred would then overwrite all the data on the device with random data three times. You can add the option -nN to only do this N times, to save time on large capacity devices. This...

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How to securely erase a hard drive using free software called DBAN. It can be hard to convince people of the need to destroy their data properly before disposing of a computer by selling it, giving it away or taking it to the dump…

Why Securely Erase A Hard Drive? Even if you empty the recycle bin after deleting files, they are still stored on your hard drive. When you delete a file Windows does not actually delete it – the first letter of each file name is just changed to a ‘?’ – because Windows ignores any files that start with a ‘?’ it looks as if the file has been deleted – but the file itself is still there.

With the right software all of these ‘deleted’ files can be retrieved if the space they occupy has not subsequently been overwritten by a new file – a godsend if you deleted files by accident but a security nightmare if someone disreputable has access to your drive!

Can’t I Just Format the Hard Drive or Reinstall Windows? Formatting a drive does not...

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The siren has sung and you've finally succumbed to her call: You're the proud owner of a shiny new PC; a faster, better SSD; or a bigger, better hard drive. It's time to toss your old equipment in the trash and start playing with your new toys, right? Not so fast.

First you need to clean the data off your old drives so you don't become a victim of identify theft. Simply deleting the data off your hard drive doesn't actually delete it; it basically just hides it from immediate view. To truly hide the data on your storage device and protect yourself against identity theft, you need to take much more drastic (and time-consuming) measures that overwrite your drive space with ones and zeroes. That's where this guide comes in.

[ FREE DOWNLOAD: The law of unintended storage consequences ]

Different technology and scenarios call for different tools. We'll identify the best secure-erasing utility for every job, no matter what type of drive you're using--even USB flash...

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Dear Lifehacker,
I have a few old computers I'm planning to donate to charity, but I want to make sure that all of my data is off of them before I give them away. I'd rather not pull out the hard drives since they're so old. How can I make sure they're clean before giving them away?
Signed,
Partially Paranoid

Photo by Josh Carlson.

Dear Partially Paranoid,
First of all, good on you for donating those old computers to charity, and good on you again for making sure they're clean and ready for use when your recipient gets them. Thankfully, getting them ship-shape for donation is quick and easy, and it won't take much work to ensure all of your data is off of them before you drop them off. Best of all, this advice is applicable regardless of your reasons for disposing of a computer. Here's what to do:

Step Zero: Back Up Everything

It goes without saying, but before going through with anything else here, make sure all of your personal...

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Got a pile of old drives that you need to wipe before sending them to Silicon Heaven? Or do you want to wipe a drive in a computer that you are selling or giving away? Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the job done.

Since hard drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs) need different handling, I'm going to cover them separately here.

See also: Video: How to destroy hard drives

HDDs

There are three approaches you can take to securely wiping hard drives.

Software

The cheapest way to tackle a pile of hard drives is to wipe them with a software eraser. I warn you though, it's not quick, and it won't work on defective disks.

My tool of choice for wiping drives is Darik's Boot And Nuke. It's free and does an excellent job of wiping drives clean.

To use it you'll need to create a wipe CD or DVD, and then hook up the drives you want to wipe to a PC and run the software. Be careful not to inadvertently wipe a...

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If you just got a new PC with a better, bigger, and faster hard-drive, and do not know what to do with the old one, we highly recommend that you make a backup of your data and learn how to securely erase your hard drive before tossing it out of the window!

You have to clean your hard-drive off the data to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of “identity theft.” Simply hitting the “delete” button does not remove data off your hard-drive.

To permanently and securely remove the data off your hard disk and protect yourself from identity theft, you need to overwrite your storage device with “ones” and “zeros.”

Few Things to Consider Before You Begin:

Make a Backup: Make a copy of all your data on a CD/DVD disk, a USB drive(s), or external hard-drive. Once you run one of these programs, you cannot go back for anything, not even for a forgotten file. Wiping vs. Encryption: There is another method available to protect you from identity theft: Disk Encryption...
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Data Wiping Software

DBAN is free erasure software designed for the personal user. It automatically deletes the contents of any hard disk that it can detect. This method prevents identity theft before recycling a computer. DBAN is also a commonly used solution to remove viruses and spyware from Microsoft Windows installations.

DBAN users should be aware of some product limitations, including:

No guarantee of data removal (e.g. DBAN does not detect or securely erase SSDs) No audit-ready reporting for regulatory compliance Limited hardware support (e.g. no RAID dismantling) No customer support or regular software updates

Business Users

Secure data erasure with audit-ready reporting is highly recommended. Please download a free evaluation license of Blancco 5 or buy licenses online.

Featured Blancco Products

Complimentary Services

The Broker Site — Europe's largest computer trading exchange since 1999

The B2B trading...
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Securely erasing a storage device

There's a command-line utility called shred, which overwrites data in a file or a whole device with random bits, making it nearly impossible to recover.

First of all, you need to identify the name of the device.

This might be something like /dev/sdb or /dev/hdb (but not like /dev/sdb1, that's a partition). You can use sudo fdisk -l to list all connected storage devices, and find your external hard drive there.

N.B. Make sure it is the correct device, picking the wrong device will wipe it.

Unmount all currently mounted partitions on that device, if any. Then run the following, replacing /dev/sdX with the name of your device:

sudo shred -v /dev/sdX

This will overwrite all the blocks on the device with random data three times, the -v flag is for verbose and will print the current progress.

You can add the option -nN to only do this N times, to save time on large capacity devices. This might take a...

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Take a moment and think about all of the sensitive data kept on your computer. Account passwords, addresses, phone numbers, access to bank accounts and other financial services, and maybe even your social security number. Almost every aspect of your identity is kept on this little machine. Now imagine you want a new one. So, you go out and buy a shiny new laptop. What do you do with the old one? Just toss it, right?

Wrong! If you just throw out your old computer, all of that personal information is still available to any tech-savvy thief. Merely deleting a file in the traditional fashion will not truly “delete” it. With a few techniques, a file sent to the recycle bin and emptied can be recovered if the deletion was recent enough.


So how can you erase a hard drive completely? Well, there a few techniques that anyone can employ to protect their identity.

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that the following software and techniques will ERASE your hard drive...

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Hard drive destruction is not that easy. There's some theory over it, metal just loses the magnetic data when heated above certain level.

If you do a good research on google you'll find some theory about recovering HDD information using powerful microscopes and their magnetic signal.

Encrypting data before storing is the best solution, if you:

use good cryptography

use protection against someone stealing your key (by physical access to your computer, for example, intercepting your keyboard, memory, etc)

have time to securely erase your key when throwing away the HDD.

And that might not be that easy. Secure your computer means, for example, that no one can access it even just after you have secure-deleted-and-wiped the key.

Password is somehow related to the key. If you delete the key, the password is kind of useless. So a combination of good key + good password, losing one make the other useless.

A good combination in...

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Your hard drive is a treasure trove of personal information. You don’t want it getting into the wrong hands if you ever get rid of your computer. An interesting study was done, in which hundreds of computers were bought secondhand and scoured for personal data. They found a lot. Some drives even had enough data to completely steal the previous owner’s identity.

So for the sake of your privacy and security, you absolutely need to “sanitize” your data before handing your drive over to someone else. Darik’s Boot And Nuke (DBAN) can help you with that. For a more in-depth look at data destruction, check out my article How Does Digital File Shredding Work?

What is DBAN?

DBAN is a program that wipes your entire hard drive so that it’s no longer readable. There are several tools that do this, but DBAN is one of the most popular.

Originally, I had planned on doing a tutorial on Secure Erase. But after more testing I found that compatibility for that...

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Last year I reviewed how to

securely erase a hard drive

using DBAN (Darik’s Boot And Nuke).

It is important to destroy data properly before disposing of a computer by selling it, giving it away or taking it to the dump – formatting a hard drive does not securely erase all files stored on it.

Reinstalling Windows might overwrite a few of the old files (making them unreadable) but with the huge sizes of modern hard drives there is a good chance that many of the old files will not be overwritten – so they could be retrieved later.

Whilst DBAN has been a ‘go to’ product to securely erase hard drives for many years, it does have some drawbacks – although it is simple to use and may be ‘good enough’ for personal use (unless security is paramount), DBAN does have weaknesses – not all parts of the drive are securely erased:

1. HPA (Host Protected Area) – DBAN does not erase the HPA – this is a hidden and protected area of the drive that is not normally...

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In general I recommend 2 rules if you are going to sell a computer with a used hard disk:

1. wipe the drive as in at least one-pass overwrite ("zeroing" ) or better ATA Secure Erase
Here is guide on how to perform either using Parted Magic
http://www.corsair.com/applicationnote/secure-erase

2. if you want to sell it with a working operating system perform a fresh installation
* This is obvious duo to the first rule

The problem with "cleaning" an existing system is that it really never is clean even if you use 10 different tools. Sure, with enough effort the only thing left may be previously used programs (MRU List) or others but you never know where stored password or something slips through.

If you want to take this risk I suggest to remove all programs using e.g. Revo Uninstaller followed by a full cleanup using CCleaner in combination with CCEnhancer ~ make sure to select all options for Windows, Applications and the Registry.
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Macs hold their value very well, and it often makes sense to sell yours to help pay for the new model you are lusting after. Or you may be feeling generous, and you want to hand it down to someone needy. One question comes to mind. How do you secure your personal information? You don’t want the new owner to have access to your banking information and your chat logs, now do you? You really don’t want to just hand it over as is. While an OS reinstall should make your files inaccessible on the surface. However, if you Mac gets into the wrong hands, it’s still possible to dig deeper and recover deleted data. This MacTip will guide you through the Secure Erasing process, so your personal data won’t be recoverable no matter where your old Mac ends up.

Update: Since this article was written in 2011, Apple has stopped distributing OS X on DVD disks, and most of the computer lineup has forgone the optical drive altogether. In light of these changes, I’ve written an updated section...

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Secure your data when selling your computer or hard drive by completely wiping any sensitive information from it. Active@ KillDisk is the perfect way to completely erase hard drive.

Our computers are an important part of many of our lives and we use them for so many things; not just for entertainment and communication. Internet banking is also popular as well as online shopping. Exchanging financial details over the web is an everyday thing for many of us and most people's computers contain plenty of sensitive information.

With all of this data, it is certainly an important thing to think about if you come to selling your hard drive or computer or other device containing personal data. Regardless of where the data is stored, there are situations where you really do need to get rid of it. This is where Active@ KillDisk can help.

If people sell their computer or give them to another person, they often don't think about the importance of properly deleting...

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