How to Permanently Erase Data From a Hard Drive

Getting rid of your hard drive? If you’re selling your drive, or perhaps simply throwing it out, you need to ensure that your data is completely wiped.

Blancco Technology Group specialise in data erasure, and they conducted an experiment where they purchased 200 hard drives from various outlets including eBay and Craigslist. The objective of the experiment was to see how much, if any, data could be recovered from the drives. Their findings were shocking; 67% of the drives tested contained residual personal files, like financial data, CVs and family photographs. Even worse, 11% of business hard drives contained residual data, including the personal details of customers. Not only is this a huge breach of privacy, but it can have huge repercussions for your business, too – businesses must strictly adhere to the Data Protection Act, as well as the EU’s GDPR law. Second hand hard drives can be a treasure trove for cyber criminals, and indeed, many such criminals will buy second hand hard drives with the sole intent of accessing private data that can be used to make some money.

When you delete data from a hard disk drive, even after you “permanently” delete it by emptying the Recycle Bin or Trash, it can still be recovered. The data itself isn’t deleted – only the master file table reference. This is sort of like a pointer to your data, something of a map. Deleting it marks the portion of the drive free for new data, and as long as it isn’t overwritten, the data is still recoverable. This is essentially how data recovery software works. So, if you are getting rid of a hard drive, whether you’re selling it or throwing it away, you need to make sure your data is completely wiped, and unrecoverable. There are essentially two routes you can go down – software wipe or physical destruction.

Software used to permanently wipe data from a hard drive is known as data sanitisation software, and works by writing dummy data to your drive. Two great data sanitisation programs are Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) and Eraser. Eraser uses patterns that government agencies use to wipe data, while DBAN can be burned to external media like a USB flash drive or a CD/DVD. To use DBAN, burn the image to your removable media, and restart your machine. If the software doesn’t load automatically, try holding down F11 or F12 on startup. When DBAN is launched, press Enter to open ‘interactive mode’, and you’ll be able to select the drive you want to securely erase; pressing the spacebar followed by F10 will begin the sanitisation process. When it is complete, you’ll get a green ‘Pass’ message.

The second method of permanently destroying data – and one that we’d wholeheartedly recommend – is physically destroying your hard drive. Although the above method of sanitising your hard drive will work just fine, you can never be too careful, especially if you’re a business that stores lots of personal data. Selling a hard drive isn’t likely to get you much money in this day in age, so correctly disposing of it is your best bet. The best way to destroy a hard disk drive at home is to simply smash it using a screwdriver and a hammer. This will ensure the platters are thoroughly smashed and data recovery will be impossible.  

Data Recovery