How to Securely Wipe Hard Drive Data
How to Completely Wipe a Hard Drive
Ever thought of wiping a hard drive when you wanted to get rid of your PC or phone and buy a new one? It is not just a matter of deleting all your files and photos. A hard drive can contain traces and even whole copies of sensitive data that will not go away that easily. While this is a positive factor for those of us who have deleted files by accident, it can be dangerous to have that data fall into the wrong hands.
With computers becoming an inseparable part of our personal and professional lives, this also means that we need to take extra precautions for cybersecurity. Wiping the hard drive before disposing or selling a device is one such precaution. This action will also help to deal with a stubborn virus, malware, or spyware that will not go away with any other method.
So, are you ready to wipe your hard drive but have limited knowledge about how to do it the right way?
Let’s break the process down into six steps so there’s no confusion.
By Deleting Files, You Only Remove the File Name
When you hit the delete button for any file or format your hard drive, the information is not removed. You only erase the file name from the index. Using a file recovery program or the particular hardware, knowledgeable hackers can get access to the information. If you intend to reuse the hard drive in your organization, erasing the information is sufficient. However, if you intend to sell the old hardware, make sure to wipe hard drive data before disposing of it. Take care that when you begin the steps for proper hard drive disposal, create backups of the data by copying and saving it on a removable USB drive.
6 Things to Do Before You Wipe Your Hard Drive
When you start wiping your hard drive, it can be difficult and even impossible to reverse your actions. That’s why you should make sure to follow these steps before wiping your hard drive.
#1 Save files
Before reformatting or wiping a hard drive, save the files that are on it. This might seem like an unnecessary precaution, as many computer users automatically save their files and back them up somewhere. However, some users might not do this regularly.
No matter which category you fall into, take the time to see which files you need to save. These could be important documents, videos, music tracks, etc. Ensure that you don’t overlook anything.
#2 Copy the drivers
When you want to erase your computer completely, save your drivers before using that big eraser. Without these, your computer will be of no use. Be warned; finding and saving each individual driver can be time-consuming. Your computer model might make it difficult to locate all of these, so get professional help if needed.
It’s best to find and save your drivers manually. Make a copy of the audio and graphics drivers. Hard drive wipe software can also accomplish this task for you, but it’s best to recheck the results yourself.
#3 De-authorize the software
Each computer has a unique number or name for identification purposes. When you use your device to go online, that number is saved on every website you access and every software you use. That’s why you should de-authorize your computer before selling or donating it.
If you’ve already paid for the software, you need to deauthorize it before moving on to another device. This will allow you to use the old program without investing in it all over again.
#4 Copy browser settings
Most people with computers spend a lot of time online on their devices. This results in a long and extensive browser history, including bookmarks and cookies. Having a copy of these settings will save you the trouble of establishing that history all over again. This will save your passwords, favorite websites, and several other aspects that make browsing easier.
#5 Copy the operating system
Obtain a copy of your unique operating system before performing the wipe. Without it, your gadgets might be obsolete and not run according to plan. At the same time, you should ensure that you have the product key for the original OS.
Speaking of keys, you can save your serial keys as well. These will help you use your paid software on your new devices. Again, a program can help you acquire and save these keys beforehand.
#6 Run a cleaner
After you’ve saved and backed up the important stuff, run a cleaner before wiping the hard drive completely. If you’re performing the wipe to get rid of some unwanted software, the cleaning program will fix the problem without the reformatting.
A cleaner will remove your junk files, browser history, and several other forms of data that might be choking your computer. If this fixes the issue, you’ll not even have to go with the last resort of wiping your hard drive.
What are the Risks of Not Wiping My Hard Drive?
Wiping your hard drive is no doubt a great risk. Many might look for reasons to avoid this process. However, there are times when it’s even riskier not to wipe your hard drive.
As mentioned above, deleted files are recoverable. This can be quite a huge security issue if you donate, sell, or pass on your computer. Below are just a few examples of how your old data can be misused.
Anyone could blackmail you for your data
If you have some scandalous photos on your hard drive, another person might gain access to them if you pass along your old PC, laptop, etc. We all know the ramifications of posting such photos online, as they can negatively affect our social reputation and even reduce the chances of getting a decent job. A malicious person could threaten to put our photos online if you don’t give in to their demands.
Blackmailing is also a threat when it comes to business documents. You could get fired or even arrested if certain documents about your employer are leaked.
You may face a security breach
Another risk in the matter of business documents is that others can get hold of your passwords, customer data, etc. This can be a serious security breach, resulting in lawsuits or at least a compromised reputation.
You may become a victim of identity theft
With information such as your home address, social security number, and credit card number, people may also steal your identity. This may result in expenses piling up in your name, even leading to the depletion of your bank accounts.
Choose Specific Data Wiping Modalities According to Your Hard Drive Type
Aside from conventional hard drives, some computers may have Hybrid or Solid State Drives (SSD). Accordingly, you may need more sophisticated methods to ensure that your information is secure. SSDs come with wear-leveling algorithms to write data in an even pattern. These disks typically include the Secure Erase program that you can use to wipe hard drive data. However, it’s possible that your computer does not include the program. In that case, you’ll need to use two third-party programs that can activate the Erase command. These tools are the Parted Magic and Secure Erase by the Center for Magnetic Recording Research.
How to Wipe Your Hard Drive for Windows
Different kinds of operating systems have different requirements for proper disk wiping. If you have a Windows system on your computer, here are the steps to follow for this task.
Download Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN)
You can download DBAN online as a .iso file. After the download finishes, burn this software on a DVD, CD, or USB drive. That way you can run the program without having to use the operating system. Since you’ll be deleting the OS during the wipe, you’ll need the DBAN on a separate source.
Back up data
Before starting the wipe, backup your data and make a recovery disk.
Run the DBAN from your USB device or the CD/DVD. You’ll need an ISO-to-USB software for the former option. That will set up your file for proper working. It’s not enough to simply copy/paste the file. Basically, you need your disks or the USB to be bootable for your computer.
Keep in mind that using the necessary software on the USB will delete any previous data from it. Reboot your machine after inserting the USB or disk.
Wipe the Drive
After you see your boot screen, press ‘Enter’ and then select ‘M’ for the method screen. This will allow you to choose the type of wipe you need. A stronger method will take more time. The ‘DOD 5220.22-M’ is the recommended one for most Windows computers.
After you choose your method, select the drive you have to wipe. Press ‘F10’ for starting the process. The wiping might take hours, but make sure it’s complete before you turn off your computer.
Remember, the process may be a bit different depending on the version of Windows you’re using. Therefore, it’s wise to search “how to wipe computer windows 7” or “how to wipe a hard drive windows 10” for more information. You might need a special hard drive wipe software other than DBAN as well.
Check out our blog if you are looking to wipe your hard drive without deleting windows.
How to Wipe Your Hard Drive for Mac
If you have a Mac computer, you’ll have to take different steps for wiping its hard drive. Here’s how to go about this.
HDD or SSD?
Before starting the wipe, find out whether you’re working with an SSD or HDD. To make sure of this, click the Apple Menu and go to ‘About this Mac.’ From there, you’ll go to ‘Storage’ and check out the drive type for your system.
Ensure a backup
As with any other OS, make sure your important data is saved on a recovery disk or in the cloud. You can have a backup plan to avoid any risks.
Wiping an HDD
Turn off the Mac, then turn it on again and hold the command plus “R” keys immediately. Once the Apple logo appears, select ‘Disk Utility’ and click ‘continue.’ Select your required disk, click it, and then click ‘erase.’ Click ‘Security Options’ and use the slider to determine what strength of erasing you want while choosing the eraser.
You’ll then click ‘Erase’ to begin the wipe.
Wiping an SSD is significantly harder and not a recommended process. However, it’s possible using the Apple Terminal app.
The Benefits of Using a Professional Data Wiping Service
You can technically wipe your hard drives yourself, but this is a fairly risky process. Fortunately, there are many data wiping options out there, with many reasons to use them. Here are just a few of the expected benefits.
Data become unrecoverable
When a professional wipe your drive, you can be sure that the data is non-recoverable. Even damaged or erased hard drives can be recovered by criminals, so it’s best to be as safe as possible.
You can avoid fines
If businesses don’t dispose of their devices and data storage properly, they could face hefty fines. In the case of a security breach or leaked information, such fines could break a company down even further. With a professional data wiping service, you can reduce this risk as well.
You can reduce your expenses
While you’ll have to pay the fees for a data wiping service, this action will save you money in the long run. If there’s a security breach, your corporation could end up losing everything it has. Therefore, using the data wipe eraser and knowing how to wipe your hard drive is worth the investment to avoid huge losses in the future.
You can free up space
When you pay for wiping a hard drive, you’ll free up your workspace. This action will allow you to throw away or donate old hard drives and outdated devices, thus giving you more office space to work in.
You can have the guarantee of regulatory compliance
Utilizing a data wiping service will ensure that you’re complying with the regulations about destroying digital fields. You don’t want fines or legal action against yourself or your company. Hire a professional instead of taking chances on your own. It’s just not worth the risk.
Invite the Experts for Assurance and Efficiency
You may be dealing with PII or the information that the stakeholders of your business entrust to you. It is absolutely essential that you take the proper steps to wipe hard drive data and protect the information. Accordingly, it is advisable that you work with a certified data destruction service that will use optimum methods to securely erase your hard drives. Expert professionals provide onsite and offsite services using approved protocols to help you. Once the process is complete, you’ll receive the necessary certificate that keeps your business indemnified.
Choose an Effective Strategy to Wipe Hard Drive Data
You can choose from the various tools available to securely wipe hard drive data depending on the hardware and operating systems you have installed. For instance, some computers have multiple drives installed in them. By using the Disk Management Tool in Windows, you can view the drives and select options for wiping a specific drive. Search online for the appropriate software for hard drive wiping and run it to protect your PII.
Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) Disk Wiping Software
DBAN is possibly the most popular software that can help wipe hard drive data. You can download the ISO file of the program free of cost from the internet and save it by burning on a CD, DVD, or USB drive. Run it by following the directions and booting it from the saved device. Soon your hard drive will be ready for accepting new files. Once you’ve run the program, check if the operating system in your computer tries to start up like before. If it does, you might want to run DBAN again.
Keep in mind that this hard drive wiping software is effective for any kind of operating system since it works independently of the OS. The hard drive data wiping process can sometimes take several hours to complete but you can rest assured that the data removal process is thorough.
Three-Pass and Seven-Pass Overwriting
The U.S. Department of Defense has specified the “Short” specification or the Three-pass and Seven-pass overwriting methods. By writing characters over the data three or seven distinct times, the software makes it impossible to decipher the information originally saved on the files.
Peter Gutmann Erase Method
Developed in the year 1996, the Peter Gutmann Erase method overwrites the hard drive 35 times. In this way, the tool prevents information from being deciphered. This system writes random characters for the first 4 and last 4 passes. From Pass 5 to Pass 31, the tool uses a complicated system of overwriting to protect PII and other sensitive information. Some tools use the Gutmann method to overwrite the free disk space on hard drives so that any file recovery programs cannot use them to decipher deleted information.
Although time-consuming, disk encryption is yet another effective tool to help you in complying with data destruction best practices. Encryption tools like TrueCrypt can help you protect specific files that you don’t want to be copied. Alternatively, if you have Windows Vista, Windows 7, or higher, you can use the inbuilt encryption tools. Like, for example, BitLocker can wipe hard drive data in addition to password caches and system files. The DiskCryptor is a third-party tool that also works well to help secure the information on your hard drive.
Frequently Asked Questions about Wiping a Hard Drive
Can you completely wipe a hard drive?
It is possible, but you will need the proper know-how of the hard drive eraser as well as the right programs. You cannot wipe a hard drive by simply deleting all the files on it. The wiping would mean that no one can reconstruct the data later on. However, make sure that all your important data is backed up beforehand. Nevertheless, the simplest, stress-free method to totally erase a hard drive is to utilize data destruction software, known as a disk wipe software or hard drive eraser software.
How do I completely wipe an external hard drive?
When wiping a hard drive it means to entirely and absolutely erase all the information on the drive. Remember, deleting all the data and information does nothing to wipe the hard drive. So that data cannot be reconstructed at a later date, you will need to wipe the hard drive. Connect the drive to your computer, open the Disk Utility app, select the drive, and click Erase. Then, click on ‘Security Options’ and enable the DOE 3-pass secure erase position by moving its slider to the right. After that, click ‘Erase Drive’ for a secure-erase. Make sure to remove any other external hard drives beforehand.
What is the best program to wipe a hard drive?
There are several good programs, discerning the best one depends on your operating system. DBAN and CCleaner are among the most popular choices. The MiniTool Partition Wizard is also a good option, especially as it combines several functions in one go around. In addition, there are free programs to wipe a hard drive, totally, these include DBan (Darik’s Boot and Nuke), KillDisk, Disk Wipe, Eraser, and DD Low-Level Format Tool. Arguably, the best program for any individual will depend on their OS.
How do I wipe my hard drive clean and reinstall Windows?
Use a program to wipe the hard drive, then recover Windows or reinstall it according to the version you have. Most computers will have an inbuilt restore process or a system restore disc for their hard drive. This will be helpful in resetting the computer to its original software and settings.
Will a magnet erase a hard drive?
Yes, a magnet can destroy the magnetic platter of a hard drive. In this way, you can be sure your data has been suitably erased. The components that make up a hard drive include a magnetic platter, which is the data storage element. A strong magnet will effectively destroy the inside of a hard drive, making it impossible to extract information from the platters. However, the magnet in question has to be quite strong, such as the one used in a fish tank cleaner. A regular refrigerator magnet is harmless in such cases.
How do I permanently delete files from my computer without recovery?
Windows users might have to install additional software for the job, while Macs have their own utility for removing deleted files from a hard drive. You can wipe the data a number of times according to your requirements. The best way to really detect those files, though, is to fill up the spaces after deleting them. To wipe the data permanently, for example, install and launch software like EaseUS Partition Master. Select the HDD or SSD and right-click to select wipe data. The next step is to set the number of times to wipe data, then check the message. The final step is to apply the changes.
What is the easiest way to wipe a hard drive?
The easiest way is to use free data destruction software. Back up any essential data that is needed, and download the free data destruction program. Follow the next steps to install its software or get the ISO image as required. You can then proceed with the drive wiping according to the given instructions. You can now install a new version of Windows or make a new partition.
Can SSD drives be wiped?
It is possible to completely erase an SSD drive without destroying it, but this is more of a reset than a wipe. We can use the ‘ATA Secure Erase’ command for this purpose, as it forces a drive to forget about all the previously stored data. It also resets the blocks to ‘erase.’ A TRIM command is given by the operating system to the drive when you delete an SSD file. The outcome is that the file is forever erased. Therefore, there is no need to wipe the SSD if necessary, just use the delete operation.
How long does DBAN take to wipe a hard drive?
This process can take up to three hours on average. However, it can also take longer depending on how large the hard drive is as well as the processor speed. You’ will get to know your progress with a percentage count as well as a display telling you how long it has been running. For example, in general, run a DBAN on a Dell Optiplex GX400 – 1.4Ghz to wipe an 80GB hard drive took 4 hours to finish. While a DBAN on a Dell Optiplex GX1 – 400Mhz to wipe an 8GB hard drive concluded in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Can I format my hard drive and reinstall Windows?
Yes, this is possible by pressing the Windows key and “C” together, then select ‘Search’ and typing ‘reinstall’ in the text field. Press ‘Enter’, then select ‘Remove Everything’ from the left screen side and proceed with reinstalling Windows. You can learn how to format a hard drive yourself or hire a professional to complete the process.
How do you reset your computer to the factory?
There are different ways to restore factory settings with different operating systems. For Windows 10, we can open the Start menu, go to ‘Recovery’ and select ‘Reset this PC.’ You will have to insert the original installation media, after which you can select ‘Remove Everything’. After the right selection, click the ‘Reset’ icon. Otherwise, there is a reset or restore factory button on your router. You can use the tip of a paper clip and press and hold for 10 seconds then release.
How do I wipe my computer clean and start over?
The simplest method to start over and wipe your computer is to use a USB drive or Windows installation disc. Alternatively, you can do this by wiping the hard drive according to your OS and then reinstalling or recovering the original OS. However, before that, you will have to create a backup of the files you want to keep with you. You can do this by saving important files to any cloud storage or another location.
Can you destroy a hard drive by putting it in the water?
No. The water might cause a short circuit in the hard drive, but this action will not destroy the drive or the data from the platters. Even if the water dries up on the device’s surface, the platters will be fine. Therefore, this means that water cannot wipe a hard drive. At most, it may damage the circuitry on the PCB.
Have you ever completely wipe your hard drive? If so, were there any unexpected challenges you had to face? Also, share your thoughts if you would like to use a data wiping service the next time you need to erase sensitive business data on your hard drives.