How to Securely Erase an SSD

Solid state drives are soaring in popularity due to their high performance, but unlike hard disk drives, erasing data isn’t as simple due to the way in which SSDs work. Here, we'll demonstrate how you can safely erase an SSD. 

Solid state drives (SSDs) are one of the best upgrades you can give you computer or laptop if it’s lagging to give it a boost, and many users are now opting to trade storage space for speed and performance; especially since cloud storage uptake has increased. Last week, we discussed how to securely erase data from a mechanical hard disk drive, using software like Erasure or Darik’s Boot and Nuke. However, SSDs operate in a totally different way, and have a limited lifespan. Using such data sanitisation programs, while essentially doing the job, could be harming your SSD and reducing both its performance and lifespan.

Traditional mechanical hard disk drives store data physically in a series of 1s and 0s on magnetic platters, indexed in the file system and accessed using the read/write heads on the actuator arm. SSDs, use NAND flash, a type of non-volatile memory, meaning it retains data even when not powered up. Unlike hard disk drives, SSDs reshuffle data for wear leveling – and these changes are recorded on a separate map. To put it simply, there are no physically indexable locations, so software used on HDDs can’t target specific sectors on the disk. Wear leveling means that data stored on SSDs is constantly being moved around, ensuring that all blocks are worn at the same rate.

But it is possible to delete all the data stored on an SSD, or rather nearly all; most SSDs allocate a small amount of space as a kind of “buffer” to move data around. Rather than delete all your data, it’s more of a reset, and works via the ATA Secure Erase feature. This command works by instructing your SSD to flush all stored electrons out, leaving it empty with no data stored on it. Unlike securely erasing a hard disk drive using software, this method essentially instructs the SSD to forget all data stored and resets all available blocks. Nothing is actually to the drive, instead, it cases a voltage spike to all of the SSD’s NAND. This process does, however, apply one-erase cycle, which will leave a small dent in your SSD’s lifespan.

Most manufactures supply software to securely erase data from an SSD; There’s SanDisk SSD Toolkit, Samsung Magician, Intel Solid State Toolbox and Corsair SSD Toolbox to name a few. However, of your SSD manufacturer doesn’t have the ATA Secure Erase Filter feature included, there are third party sources you can use to securely erase your SSD. One such program is Parted Magic, which unfortunately, isn’t free, although it does cost a mere $11; you pay, and get a download link. The program needs to be installed onto a USB flash drive or DVD, which the developer gives you the option of purchasing directly. If you choose the direct download option, create a mountable USB flash drive or DVD, boot the drive, and choose the first option, ‘Default Settings’.

To begin securely erasing your SSD, select ‘Start’ > ‘System Tools’ > ‘Erase Disk’. From here, you can choose whether it’s an internal or external drive, and select the ‘ATA Secure Erase’ option. The program will detect any SSDs, so make sure you select the right one if you have multiple SSDs installed. Press ‘Continue’, and you’ll be taken to the final screen, where you have to tick a box giving the program permission to erase the listed device. The erase won’t take long, and when it’s finished, you’ll see the results dialogue box letting you know if the secure SSD erase was successful. Be aware, however, that once the process is complete, SSD data recovery won't be possible. 

SSD Data Recovery