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Did you know that formatting a hard drive doesn’t actually delete the data stored on it? Recovering data after a hard drive has been formatted is actually quite simple.

When formatting a drive, the tool you use simply deletes the old partition, then creates a new one. The operating system can no longer read the data that the drive contained, but the data still exists.

When selling an old machine, or HDD, or even if you’re just looking to dispose of it 5 Things You Must Check Before Disposing of Old Computers 5 Things You Must Check Before Disposing of Old Computers Read More , securely erasing everything on your hard drive is very important. But how do you do that?

1. Software (DBAN)

Darik’s Boot And Nuke, or DBAN as many people know it, is a free bootable tool that allows you to securely wipe all of the data on your hard drive to government standards.

DBAN Start Screen

DBAN is a command line A Beginners Guide To The Windows Command Line A Beginners Guide To The Windows Command Line Read More tool, but is very simple to use. It works by systematically replacing all of the data on your hard drive with a random sequence of gibberish. This renders the old data on your drive completely destroyed and is almost impossible to recover from.

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You can use DBAN in a number of different ways, but the “autonuke” method is the easiest. Autonuke is a three pass wipe which results in your data being destroyed to a DoD standard.

How to Use DBAN

Download the DBAN ISO from their website, then create a bootable USB stick 10 Tools to Make a Bootable USB from an ISO File 10 Tools to Make a Bootable USB from an ISO File A bootable USB is the best way to install an operating system. Besides the ISO and a USB drive, you need a tool to set it all up. That's where we come in. Read More . Boot your machine using your DBAN USB stick, at the main prompt enter the command autonuke and press enter.

DBAN will then start to wipe your drive automatically, carrying out three passes so that it overwrites your data with gibberish three times. This process can take many hours to complete depending on the size of your hard drive, so it’s probably best to leave the process running overnight.

DBAN Autonuke

Once all three passes have completed, the data on your drive will be completely erased and unrecoverable. You can then reinstall your operating system How To Make a Bootable USB, CD or DVD to Install Windows Using an ISO File How To Make a Bootable USB, CD or DVD to Install Windows Using an ISO File Need installation media to reinstall Windows? In this article we'll show you where to get Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 installation files and how to create a bootable USB, CD, or DVD from scratch. Read More if needed.

2. Hardware

If you want to fully automate the process and software isn’t your thing, you could always opt for a hard drive eraser. They’re not cheap, costing around $200. But they are very useful, especially if you have a number of drives to erase.

StarTech Drive Eraser

Devices like the Startech Drive Eraser (UK) and the WiebeTech Drive eRazer Ultra (UK) are great and they make the process of erasing your data very simple. Just dock your drive and press a button; the eraser does the rest.

Most hardware drive erasers also allow you to print a receipt. So if you are selling that old machine, you can prove to the new owner that the drive has been securely erased.

StarTech.com USB 3.0 Standalone Eraser Dock for 2.5" and 3.5" SATA SSD/HDD Drives - Secure Drive Erase with Receipt Printing - SATA I/II StarTech.com USB 3.0 Standalone Eraser Dock for 2.5" and 3.5" SATA SSD/HDD Drives - Secure Drive Erase with Receipt Printing - SATA I/II Securely erase a SATA HDD / SSD without a computer or dock your drive for easy access Buy Now At Amazon $209.99

3. Break and Replace

If you’re disposing of an old computer after buying a new one, you could simply destroy the old hard drive. Hammering a few large nails through the drive at specific points is a great way of ensuring that the drive is completely useless and that your data is safe.

There’s a few simple tools you need to destroy your drive:

  1. A hammer.
  2. Three large nails (4–6 inches would be fine).
  3. A small block of wood.
  4. Some safetly glasses.

Hard Drive Nails

Place your hard drive on top of your block of wood — after all, you don’t want to nail your hard drive to the floor! Take your first nail and hammer it through the drive at the spot marked by the red circle above.

“Why that spot?” I hear you cry. Driving a nail through that part of the drive will not only destroy the hard drive platters How Does A Hard Drive Work? [Technology Explained] How Does A Hard Drive Work? [Technology Explained] Read More , it will also destroy the read/write heads. Rendering the drive, and the data it contains completely useless.

You could hammer two more nails where the yellow dots are, this will further ensure that the platters within the hard drive are completely ruined and that your data is safe.

This approach is also applicable if you are selling your old machine, rather than disposing of it. Hard drives today are relatively cheap, so you could destroy the hard drive and put a new one in the computer you intend to sell.

If you want to save a few bucks on the new drive, you could buy one reconditioned, from somewhere like eBay.

4. Full Disk Encryption

Ok, you got me. Full disk encryption Free Military-Grade Privacy For Your Files: How Bitlocker Works [Windows] Free Military-Grade Privacy For Your Files: How Bitlocker Works [Windows] Ever heard that quote about trying to explain how a television works to an ant? I'm not calling you an ant, even though you are hard-working and enjoy the occasional sip of aphid milk. What... Read More isn’t really a way of erasing the data on your hard drive. But it is a great way of ensuring your data cannot be read, even if you only format the hard drive when you come to get rid of it.

Encryption works by scrambling all of the data on your drive using extremely complex mathematics. Encrypting a drive makes it almost impossible for prying eyes to access your data, so it practically negates the need for erasing your data.

Security Encryption Illustration
Image Credit: Visual Content via Flickr

If you’re unlucky enough to unwittingly sell your computer to a hacker, having an encrypted drive will mean that unless the hacker is straight from the set of Mr. Robot, your data is going to be safe.

Having said that, I would still recommend you use a tool like DBAN to erase your data — it’s always best to be safe than sorry.

Do You Even Erase?

Computer security is everyone’s responsibility. With so many of us turning to computers for things like online banking, budgeting, or even just social media, it’s more important than ever to ensure the data you share with people limited. Even if you share it by accident.

You wouldn’t give your computer password to a stranger, so don’t hand over all of your personal data through lack of diligence. If you’re selling or disposing of an old machine, make sure your data is completely destroyed.

Do you have a different way of securely erasing your data? If so, please tell us about it in the comments below.

  1. Jack Roger
    November 8, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Rich and amazing content Kev.

    For a complete and secure data destruction, I always use and recommend Software approach; as it is nature-friendly without any waste. I have heard about Bitraser software in a E-Scrap conference for the complete data deletion. I really like its easy interface.?

  2. dragonmouth
    October 19, 2016 at 7:09 pm

    Percussive maintenance with a hammer, brick or a rock will definitely make the data inaccessible. Works on HDDs, SSDs, all USB sticks, just about any storage device other than a tape or a floppy.

  3. Godel
    October 19, 2016 at 1:59 am

    HDDErase is a program that uses a firmware routine built into all modern HDs.

    HDDErase reported to be much faster than software-only erasers such as DBAN and wipes all the disk, including bad sectors. It must be loaded onto a DVD/CD or USB stick and then used to boot the computer.

    SSDs are a slightly different case to spinning HDDs and I would consult the manufacturers websites to see if they have any special utilities to erase their own disks, although I see Crucial is recommending HDDErase for their SSDs.
    BTW, anyone using 57 passes of an erase program to wipe their HD is kidding themselves. The modern HD is so tightly packed with data that a single wipe is enough to trash the whole thing, but by all means do two or three if it will make you feel any happier.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 19, 2016 at 8:12 am

      I've never used HDDErase myself, but I'll look in to it, thanks. Yes, 57 passes is excessive.

  4. Hanse
    October 18, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Tearing down the drive provides a couple of very powerful magnets in the head actuator assembly. I love to have these around just to play with. Many of the newer drives have platters made on a glass substrate and are easy to break once they are removed from the case. Also once you erase the drive there are plenty of places where you can donate older hardware to people who would love to have equipment that is better than theirs but no longer useful to the original owners.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 19, 2016 at 8:14 am

      Yeah, donating HW is definitely a great thing to do. I've done it before with various companies I've worked for.

      I tend to use the platters as coasters. :-)

  5. chuck
    October 18, 2016 at 11:55 am

    A Loal school district uses a drill bit going thru platter and logic board

    • Kev Quirk
      October 18, 2016 at 12:44 pm

      That'll do it.

    • John L. Galt
      October 18, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      We did that at my college as well.

      I personally take the drives apart, first, and then stack the platters and drill through them.

  6. A H Roddis
    October 18, 2016 at 11:06 am

    The last hard drive I took out of the desktop was hit and bent with a hammer , then placed on a large bonfire and left to cook all night. Not good for the planet but surely it worked, answers on a postcard,
    please !.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 18, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      That would probably do the trick.

  7. Eddie G.
    October 18, 2016 at 5:01 am

    Call me old fashioned, or paranoid, either way I prefer to take a different approach when it comes to destroying the data on my drive. I take a more fluid approach. You probably have heard of Liquid Drano?...well a few bottles of that along with hot salted water and ammonia?...work like a charm!...I usually leave the drive in there for at least a week, and this is only AFTER I drill four holes in 'em!...

    • Kev Quirk
      October 18, 2016 at 8:15 am

      That's certainly a sure fire way of ensuring the data is gone. However, if I left a HDD soaking in the sink for a week, my wife would kill me. :-)

      • Eddie G.
        October 18, 2016 at 4:53 pm

        Oh no!....I to have "one of those"...and she'd also remove ME if I did that to her sink!.....no no no....go and get two buckets from Home Depot, you know...the orange ones that seem to EVERYWHERE in the store?...LoL! This way you can do your "destruction" in the garage, on the back deck etc. I use those...along with heavy duty latex gloves to preserve my skin!...LoL!...

  8. jim
    October 17, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    About DBAN: "to securely wipe all of the data on your hard drive to government standards" Personally, I would prefer a higher standard. The hammer and nails or drilling through the hard drive seems good to me. Drill enough holes so that the drive looks like Swiss cheese. Destroys the drive and works for all operating systems.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 17, 2016 at 8:36 pm

      Personally, I prefer to simply destroy the drive and put a replacement in the machine. That way I know my data is safe. But my drives are always encrypted as well. :-)

    • John L. Galt
      October 18, 2016 at 7:19 pm

      DBan can go much further than DoD / NSA standards, though. The default is to let it do its magic to a set standard. The most extreme takes a long time, but gets the job done.

  9. jimvandamme
    October 17, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Install Linux over the whole Windows operating system. It makes the PC more usable to the next user, too.

    For dead drives or ridiculously small ones, I take them apart and use the magnets. A few scrapes on the platters and there's no way you can read them.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 17, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      Installing Linux doesn't necessarily overwrite all of the old data that's on the drive.

  10. Scott Saftler
    October 17, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    Instead of hammering nails into your drive, I've found that an electric drill and a 1/4" drill bit are also quite effective.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 17, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      Oh yeah, that will work just fine, but I wanted to recommend tools that most people will probably have lying around the house. :-)

  11. Sonny Wadstedt
    October 17, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Regarding 3. Break and Replace.

    If you are really, really secret like Snowden, this is not an option. There is ways to restore "some" data even if there is only small fragments left from the drives platters.

    Obviously, you cannot recover more data from the areas than what you have left of the drive platters.

  12. Dirk Nouvortne
    October 17, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    What's about the destroying of mobile devices? Phone or tablets?

    • Kev Quirk
      October 17, 2016 at 2:09 pm

      This article is only for desktops & laptops. There are ways to do this on mobile devices as well. I'll pitch this to the guys who work on the mobile category and see if we can get something together for you. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 17, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      If you're an Android user, here's a guide on wiping that we have previously published: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/how-to-wipe-history-on-android/

  13. Jouni "rautamiekka" Järvinen
    October 16, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    §shred§, a Linux program, does good enough job. §dd§ too, but §shred§ is more convenient and has more features.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Shred is a good tool, but only really useful is you're running Linux. Obviously it can be installed in a Linux live environment, but the user will also need to know the syntax. DBAN is just one command.

      It's the same issue with DD. If you don't know the syntax, it's difficult. Thanks for the recommendations though.

  14. Bleachie
    October 14, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    Shrillary told me to use bleachbit. It sure defeats the FBI, so I guess it's good enough for me.

    • Kev Quirk
      October 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      If that's what works for you then great. Bleachbit is really good. :-)

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