Best Ways To Erase Hard Drive Information For Good
Sometimes you need to be absolutely sure about keeping your private computer data secure and getting rid of it in a way that will completely prevent anyone else from ever reading that information again is essential.
This might be because you’re about to donate your computer or just its HD to a third party, you’re going to sell one or both, or you’re planning on throwing the HD in the trash and don’t want some snoop or scavenger to get their hands on it and, by extension, your files. On the other hand, you might also just want to permanently destroy individual files on your computer HD machine.
Regardless of which of these is the case, we’ll now go over several methods of making sure your hard drive is forensically secure against all conventional and even specialized data retrieval efforts.
Data Destruction without Destroying Functionality
Not every case of HD data destruction can be done in a way that also ruins the drive itself; sometimes you need to preserve its workability while also making sure it no longer contains any traces of your private information. Here are some methods of doing this:
Older, pre-Vista editions of Windows were useless at data erasure during formatting. Instead, all they did was mark off all your information as free space and reinstall your operating system over top of a small part of it; the rest of your 1s and 0s retained all of their original organized structure, making them completely open to a basic forensic data recovery.
As of Windows Vista and moving into all editions Windows 7 and 8, Microsoft fixed this security mistake by changing its OS formatting protocol so that it cleanly erases all of your HD data by turning everything into 0s during formatting.
This means that your most basic tool for permanent data deletion is the reformat option right inside your own Windows machine (unless it’s somehow running on XP or older Windows editions). To use it, simply boot your computer from a Windows disk or Windows boot Disk (obviously Windows Vista or later versions) and set it to perform a full data format.
If you have just an HD you’d like to erase, simply attach it to another Windows computer through an external USB case and when it appears in your list of drives right click and select “Format” to get Windows Vista or 7 to format it.
Experiments done with forensic recovery software running on HDs formatted with later versions of Windows have shown that they really seem to completely do the job.
CCleaner is a free downloadable HD repair and data organization tool that’s been designed to make your machine run faster, more efficiently and more securely. However, an additional and not so well known function of CCleaner is its “Drive Wiper” tool, available under “Tools” in the left-hand menu that appears when you open the program.
What Drive Wiper does is erase either all the free space on your computer or your entire drive itself by passing over their bits of binary data anywhere between 7 and 35 times, changing them into total, useless randomness from which nothing organized can be recovered. This little piece of software is a wonderful cost-free data destruction option.
Darik’s Boot and Nuke
This small bootable open source program can be run off a CDR or DVD disc right from your computer’s BIOS and through it’s very simple DOS style interface used to wipe your entire hard drive completely using multiple bit changing passes -hence the word “Nuke” in the programs name.
DBAN, as it’s also called, only works on Windows machines but it provides a solid level of total data erasure security by passing over data at least 35 times in order to completely randomize all the HD’s binary magnetic code. The process, however, does take hours to complete, so be ready to wait a little while.
Secure Hard Drive Destruction
If you don’t care about your hard drive at all and just want to make sure it’s data can’t be found after you’ve tossed the device away, then you’ve got a few damaging options on hand; all of these involve making ever last square centimeter of data useless on the HD disks in order to prevent even extreme recovery tactics such as Magnetic Electron Microscopy, which actually reads the electron patterns on even tiny pieces of HD disk space.
A degausser is basically an enormously powerful donut shaped electromagnet that totally strips all magnetic charge from objects that have it. Since HDD technology is entirely based on magnetically charging electrons on a data platter, passing your HD through a degausser will wipe it thoroughly and quite probably also make it completely useless for others.
By passing your entire HD, and particularly its internal disks, through an industrial strength shredder, you’ll be turning the whole device into powder, making everything it contained disappear forever to all retrieval methods except maybe time travel.
Hammering the Disks
If you don’t have $100+ dollars lying around to buy your own personal degausser or shredder, and don’t trust any third party data recovery company to use their own such tools on your behalf, there is another very primitive method of annihilating your hard drive and all its data for good: simply pry it open, pry out the internal magnetic disks -those tiny, extremely shiny plates inside the HD–, place them inside a double layer of plastic bag to prevent flying debris and start hammering them with a heavy little mallet.
Continue doing this until they are essentially just tiny ground fragments. Since the disks are actually quite brittle, this method is surprisingly effective at completely pulverizing them into nearly powder-like texture; Throw the shattered tiny disk fragments away safely afterwards.
Erasing Select Files Only
You might not always want to totally devastate the entire contents of your hard drive. Sometimes you just need to securely destroy certain compromising files inside a working HD. If this is more of what you’re interested in, here are a couple of options:
Mac: For Mac computers, there is a built in data destruction tool that you can use by simply throwing all your unwanted data into the machine’s Trash folder and, in Finder, selecting Secure Empty Trash from the available options. There, done! Your files are gone for good.
For Windows machines, one excellent option is yet another small downloadable program called “Eraser”. This open source tool can be installed on your desktop and will then automatically appear as a right click option for any file or document on your computer. By using it, you will completely erase that particular file from recoverability.
When all else fails, consult a digital forensics specialist to help you with your issues.