Security Technology Explained

How to Securely Erase Your SSD Without Destroying It

Gavin Phillips Updated 27-03-2020

A solid-state drive (SSD) is one of the best upgrades you can make to your PC. An SSD was once a trade-off between disk space, cost, and the speed boost, but large capacity SSDs are now cheaper than ever.

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Like other types of flash memory, you can only write to an SSD so many times, which presents an issue if you want to wipe the solid-state drive clean. Using a regular tool can damage the SSD, reducing its lifespan.

So, how do you securely erase an SSD without damaging the drive?

Does Secure Erase Damage Your SSD?

Generally speaking, you should never have to perform any maintenance on your solid-state drive. SSDs are designed with self-sufficiency in mind, using a series of algorithms and fail-safes that the manufacturer puts in place to maximize drive life and ensure data is discarded correctly.

What Is SSD Wear Levelling?

The first protection comes in the form of wear leveling, designed to evenly distribute stored data between SSD blocks to ensure even wear. Wear leveling is one of the major differences between a regular magnetic hard drive and a solid-state drive.

A traditional hard drive stores files in physical locations on a magnetic platter. The operating system indexes the file locations in a file system and accesses the data using a mechanical arm. Whereas, a solid-state drive is a form of flash memory, like a USB thumb drive—but with a much larger capacity.

Instead of writing to a location on a physical disc, an SSD writes the data to a block. Each write process causes the memory to degrade, or “wear.”

While the SSD uses a file system to communicate data storage locations to the host system, it also re-shuffles the data to ensure even wear across all memory blocks. Changes made for wear leveling record to a separate file map.

In other words, SSDs do not use any physically indexable locations, and software cannot specifically target sectors on the disk. Basically, your computer has no way of telling “where” that information was just copied to.

What Is SSD Trim and Should You Use It?

Your SSD constantly moves data around to comply with wear leveling, ensuring all blocks wear at an even rate. What that does mean, however, is that some common secure file deletion methods don’t work as you would expect. At least, not how they work on a magnetic hard drive.

Solid-state drives use a specific command to keep on top of file deletion, known as TRIM. The TRIM command marks the blocks of data the SSD is no longer using, ready for wiping internally. In basic terms, this means when you delete a file in your operating system, the TRIM command wipes the space and makes it available for use.

The next time your operating system attempts to write something to that space, it can do so immediately. Simply put, your SSD manages your discarded data.

The difference in how an SSD handles data deletion and the use of wear levelling is why regular secure drive wiping programs are not recommended for an SSD. You will eventually write 1s and 0s to the drive, but it will cause a significant amount of wear to the drive memory in the process.

Because the drive writes all new incoming data to various blocks, depending on its needs, only the drive knows where this data is written. So, secure deletion tools actually harm SSDs by performing an unnecessary number of additional writes.

For a much more detailed look at TRIM and garbage collection, you should read our article on the usefulness of TRIM on modern SSDs Why TRIM is Important to Solid State Hard Drives? [Technology Explained] Read More .

How to Securely Erase an SSD

Right now, you’re probably thinking, “How do I securely wipe my SSD, then?” Thankfully, it is still possible to securely wipe your SSD using software, and without damaging the drive. The difference is that instead of securely wiping all data from the drive, an SSD “resets” to a clean memory state (not factory, which implies there is no drive wear!).

The “ATA Secure Erase” command instructs the drive to flush all stored electrons, a process that forces the drive to “forget” all stored data. The command resets all available blocks to the “erase” state (which is also the state the TRIM command uses for file deletion and block recycling purposes).

Importantly, the ATA Secure Erase command does not write anything to the SSD, unlike a traditional secure wipe tool. Instead, the command causes the SSD to apply a voltage spike to all available flash memory blocks in unison. The process resets every available block of space in a single operation, and the SSD is “clean.”

Using the ATA Secure Erase command does use a whole program-erase cycle for your SSD. So yes, it does cause a small amount of wear, but it is negligible in comparison to a traditional secure wipe tool.

Secure Erase Your SSD Using a Manufacturer Tool

Most manufacturers supply software to use with their SSD. The software usually includes a firmware update tool and secure erase tool, and perhaps a drive cloning option. While it’s impossible for MakeUseOf to check the software of every manufacturer, you can find a list of tools for the major SSD manufacturers below.

The SSD manufacturer’s management app is the first place to check for a secure erase tool. However, some manufacturers do not include the ATA Secure Erase command as an option. Furthermore, in some cases, your SSD model may not support the command. If that is the case with your SSD, move onto the next section.

Secure Erase Your SSD Using Parted Magic

Although the SSD manufacturer tool may come with a secure erase tool, many experts advise using Parted Magic instead. Indeed, Parted Magic features as an essential tool to keep in your PC repair USB toolkit The PC Repair Toolkit in Your Pocket: Boot CD on a USB Stick Inside my technician's toolkit I keep a USB flash drive loaded with the most amazing tools on the planet: my PC repair toolkit. In this article, I share its contents. Read More .

Parted Magic is a whole Linux distribution featuring all manner of disk erasing and partition managing tools. The tool does cost $11, but you have access to the suite forever, whenever you need it.

Parted Magic is a bootable Linux environment, meaning you install it to a USB drive and boot from there Create a Bootable USB From an ISO With These 10 Tools Want to create a bootable USB drive from an ISO file? We've got the ten best bootable USB pendrive creators around. Read More . Here’s a quick list of exactly what you need to do:

  1. Download Parted Magic and create a mountable USB drive using Unetbootin.
  2. Boot the drive and choose option 1, Default Settings.
  3. Once booted head to Start (bottom-left) > System Tools > Erase Disk.
  4. Choose the Internal:Secure Erase command writes zeroes to entire data area option, then confirm the drive you want to erase on the next screen.
  5. If you are told the drive is “frozen,” you will need to click the Sleep button and repeat this process until you can proceed further. If your drive indicates a password requirement, leave the password as “NULL.”
  6. Confirm that you have read and understood the risks, then hit Yes to erase your drive.

Secure Erase Your SSD Using PSID Revert

There is a third method to erase your SSD securely. The Physical Security ID (PSID) revert effectively cryptographically erases the content of your SSD, then resets it to the erase state. However, this method only works if you cannot securely erase the drive due to full disk encryption.

samsung ssd with psid

A PSID Revert wipes the entire drive. This process also works if the drive is hardware encrypted but not encrypted using third-party software 4 Syskey Encryption Alternatives for Windows 10 Windows encryption tool Syskey will disappear with the upcoming Windows 10 update. Here are four alternative tools to secure your data. Read More . Find out if your drive supports PSID Revert by completing an internet search for “[your drive name] PSID Revert.”

Securely Erasing an SSD for Mac Users

Attempting to boot Parted Magic on a Mac can cause some issues. The issues relate to the method you use to create the Parted Magic bootable USB drive. Some burning programs work fine, while other options never seem to work.

A forum post on the Apple Stack Exchange provides details on how to boot Parted Magic on a Mac, with some handy pictures, too. You should also check out our guide on how to create a bootable USB for a Mac How to Create and Boot From a Linux USB Drive on Mac There are a few ways to get a create a live Linux USB drive that will boot on your Mac: you can do it with freeware, or get your hands dirty with the command line. Read More —but remember, your mileage may vary!

Other forum posts advise that if you experience issues with your Mac SSD and it is still under warranty, you should let Apple take a look.

You Can Wipe Your SSD Clean

Wiping an SSD clean requires different tools to a regular hard drive. Now you know the options, you can securely erase your SSD before selling or donating it. Manufacturer secure erase options are handy, but the Parted Magic secure erase option is best.

Remember, if you’re not selling or donating the drive and just want to destroy the data, you can always smash it up with a giant hammer. Of course, this will obliterate your data, as well as the drive itself. But you will securely erase your data in the process.

There are other reasons for erasing your SSD, of course. Check out the most common warning signs that your SSD is about to break down and fail 5 Warning Signs Your SSD Is About to Break Down and Fail Worried your SSD will malfunction and break down and take all of your data with it? Look for these warning signs. Read More !

Explore more about: Data Security, Drive Format, File Management, Solid State Drive.

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  1. ThaCrip
    March 29, 2019 at 11:08 am

    From what I understand in why Secure Erase on a SSD works so quickly (as in like 2 seconds or so tops) is because, from what I read, some SSD's (like the popular Samsung etc) are encrypted within the drive itself when it's in basic use as when you issue the Secure Erase command it simply deletes a encryption key which is used to decode(read) any of the data and changes it to a new one. so basically while your data might still be on the drive it won't be able to be recovered without that key. so it's like the data is erased and then you start anew. because prior to finding that out it just did not make much sense in how a SSD could wipe data that fast. but after reading that it makes sense why my Samsung SSD preforms a Secure Erase so quickly.

  2. Oyvind Overby
    August 3, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    I downloaded PartedMagic and paid 9USD (not 5 as the article says). I installed it on a botable USB stick using Unetbootin and it booted just fine on a laptop where I have an internal 128Gb SAMSUNG microSSD drive (not MiniSSD).
    However, - and regretfully as very often is the case - these "magic" utility software packages only runs their magic when everything is in working order.
    My SSD drive seems to have a problem, but the so called "test" features of PartedMagic only hangs at 10% forever. It's disappointing that a SW feature supposed to test, detect and report errors is completely unable to do so.
    Waste of time (and a bit of money).

  3. John
    August 3, 2017 at 6:36 am

    Nowadays (2017+) SSD are not so prone to wearing, and there is much greater chance that You will replace Your SSD due to upgrade needs (bigger capacity/faster speed/newest slot type) than due to wearing.
    I had (PMagic) erased SSD 50+ times and there is no sign of any deterioration.
    Average users do not have to perform secure erase; I did it because I usually (on purpose) install suspicious software and malware, and after that the best way to ensure security is to secure erase SSD, than simply put back Your SSD (healthy, previously made) backup.

  4. gtmark1
    June 17, 2016 at 7:39 am

    I need a manual on how to protect a SSD. These articles are minimal at best. Nice enough to get the brain working. How about allocating .exes to HDDs. What about Windows Disc Cleanup? What about those Temporary Files that need to be cleaned up? What about using CCleaner? What about System Restore?What about system logs and logs created by your antivirus and malware cleaners? And I now know not to use Defrag on an SSD. See? More important stuff needs to be addressed! How do we configure the OS and the hardware to keep the SSD fresh? Logs- the logs wills be needed to be stored to the HDD for removal incl antivirus and other peripheral logsl. How do we do this? This article and many more i have read do not supply the needed info.

    • gtmark1
      June 17, 2016 at 7:46 am

      This is to say- how do we put necessary stuff and what is necessary on the SSD and what can we hedge to the HDD to save the SSD?

  5. bradford
    March 9, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    I understand the concept that the OS is unaware where the drive is writing data which is why a sector by sector wipe would be detrimental to the drive. However, I am wondering how whole drive encryption works since i understood that to work in the same manner?

  6. Edwin
    April 12, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    All,
    I am new to SSD and how they work. I recently did an Active Book Disk image of Win 7 Pro 64bit restore to a new HP 840G1 EliteBook and it appears to have killed the system. Now I get a variety of errors at boot. Everything from missing files, corrupted files, bad patch file, etc. There doesn't seem to be a specific error. I wiped the drive, with Active Boot Disk and did a plan Win7 install and I get the same errors. I don't even know if this is a SSD problem but I have done this procedure dozens of times before on non-SSD systems and all worked as designed. Any suggestion would be appreciated.

  7. LG
    April 2, 2015 at 5:16 am

    Is secure erase erasing the data to forensic level?

  8. RedHat
    May 28, 2014 at 1:02 am

    I don't understand why you can't just a do a low level format? Either way the entire drive gets flagged and overwritten once, but a low level format can easily be done from Windows without purchasing any other software.

    • BlueHat
      February 17, 2015 at 6:19 pm

      Wouldn't work properly because the OS cannot control where it writes to on the drive. The SSD's controller is responsible for that, and due to wear leveling algorithms, wouldn't get you the intended results. With an SSD, all you need is to perform a "secure erase."

  9. Godel
    May 8, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    Makers of erasure programs such as CCleaner should add a simple "delete" option to their programs for SSD users, as opposed to the usual overwrite methods, and allow Trim to get rid of every-day garbage.

    The cleaner programs would still have a function in that they can locate the tmp, log, etc files scattered all over the place, they'd just rely on the SSD's Trim to do the actual deletion.

    If you REALLY need to keep your disk secure, the only way is full disk encryption from the beginning, using something like Truecrypt or Bitlocker.

  10. James
    April 24, 2014 at 12:40 am

    It amazes me in this day and age that all OSes don't have and free option built in to store users data encrypted and/or erase it securely as part of an OS "reset".

  11. Vectrexer
    April 14, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    I co do this free on Windows. Why pay $5 the "Free" Linux community.

  12. Ron
    April 14, 2014 at 3:28 am

    Thanks to Tim B. and MakeUseOf for putting me on the right path. I'm sure there are numerous ways to achieve what I was inquiring about but I like your methd best. My 3-user Windows 7 disk is getting long in the tooth and I would rather uses an ISO file any day before damaging the disk any further. Everything is documented now for future use. Using the options outlined on the disk can only underrmine the integrity of any SSD since I was fortunate enough to acquire the disk at a quite resonable price way back, when Microsoft was worried about the reception Windows 7 would get following the Windows Vista blunder, and SSDs were quite expensive at the time. I can't believe I missed this gem in the past. Being a subscriber now, I'll make sure this won't happen again.

    • Tim B
      April 15, 2014 at 12:33 am

      Really glad we could help you out Ron. I totally agree, USB installs are the future. Fast, easy and you can just make another one if anything goes wrong :)

  13. Anthony
    April 13, 2014 at 4:27 am

    Where it says "We’ve covered Parted Magic in the past..." I'd love to read that article, but the link doesn't work.

  14. Saumyakanta S
    April 12, 2014 at 7:19 pm

    2 minutes silence for MAC users ... haha

    • David P
      July 19, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      Saumyakanta -
      You are right. I got PMagic to boot on a Mac, all it took was about two periods of two minutes of silence, while PMagic time-out probing the hardware.
      -D

  15. Ron
    April 12, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    All well and good but, like so many web sites, this article fails to address how to properly "format" the drive for putting the OS on another PC or just simply re-installing the OS all over again on the same PC. I understand it uses the command "diskpart" prior to installing Windows 7 and it preserves the integrity of the SSD while providing a safe way of idoing a clean install of the OS at no expense whatsoever. I had a document of the the procedure and unfortunately misplaced it and can't seem to find the right search string on the Internet to get the information I need. It worked like a charm and I'm dismayed that it's so difficult to find the solution. Anyone have any ideas?

  16. Er1robyn
    April 12, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Don't do something,so that you have to erase all your data,,,,,freaking ....scary thought

  17. Howard Pearce
    April 11, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Are there rules on how often you can or should trim ?

    • Achraf A
      May 7, 2014 at 12:23 am

      Nope , you can execute the TRIM command as frequently as you want, each Day, Week, Month, it doesn't matter, when the SSD receives the command, it will check the buffer if there are "deleted" files that their corresponding blocks need to be erased, if the buffer's empty, it will do nothing, if there's something in the buffer, it will erase its blocks.

      In fact, if you've got a modern SSD with the latest firmware update, then your SSD's internal microcontroller would be so fact that it'll process the buffer a few seconds after you delete your files, essentially erasing their corresponding blocks without waiting for a manual TRIM command to be executed by the operating system.