Do SSDs Really Ever Securely Delete Your Data?
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The process of deleting files is cathartic. We select a list of old or useless files, hit Delete, and — poof — they’re gone. But are they really? The advent of the solid-state drive (SSD) means deleting isn’t always what it seems. And as data recovery techniques improve, so does the chance of truly destroying those old cat selfies.

Does your SSD ever delete your files? Or are they simply momentarily obscured? Let’s find out.

What Happens When You Hit Delete

We hit delete, and the file disappears from the screen. But what happens? Well, deleting a file is a multi-stage process. The first time you delete a file, it simply moves to the Recycle Bin (or Trash). The file contents remain intact. This allows us to recover files we accidentally delete.

The next step is removing it from the Recycle Bin (or using Shift + Delete to directly delete). Most operating systems keep track of files using “pointers.” Each file and folder has a pointer telling the file system exactly where to look for a file. When you delete a file from the Recycle Bin, Windows deletes the pointer and marks the disk sectors containing the data as available for overwriting.

In your file explorer, the file is gone. In practice, though, until the disk sector containing the existing data is overwritten, the file data still exists. This is why file recovery programs The Best Free Data Recovery Tools for Windows The Best Free Data Recovery Tools for Windows Data loss can strike at any time. We will highlight the best free data recovery tools for Windows to help get your precious files back. Read More can restore files. Furthermore, this is why some file recovery programs can recover parts of files — the sector containing old data wasn’t entirely written over, leaving some data intact.

This is how file deletion works on a regular hard drive 4 Ways to Completely Delete Your HDD 4 Ways to Completely Delete Your HDD When selling an old computer, or HDD, or even if you're just looking to dispose of it, securely erasing everything on your hard drive is very important. But how do you do that? Read More . SSDs work differently.

Why Are SSDs Different?

SSDs are different from regular HDDs How to Move Windows from HDD to SSD to Improve Performance How to Move Windows from HDD to SSD to Improve Performance A Solid State Drive upgrade really improves performance. But how can you squeeze a large Windows installation onto a tiny SSD? Windows users can comfortably migrate from HDD to SSD in very little time. Read More , primarily because they use different technologies to record data. An HDD is a spinning platter that writes with with a moving mechanical arm. An SSD is more akin to a flash memory stick, storing information in cells. To write new data to a cell, the drive must first erase existing data.

That’s where the TRIM command comes in 7 Terms You Need to Know When Buying a New SSD 7 Terms You Need to Know When Buying a New SSD While SSD specifications may seem overly daunting at first, the truth is that these terms are quite simple to understand. Read More . During regular operations, SSDs essentially rapidly zero the data containing cell before rewriting data. SSDs maintain control over where data is written within the cells. This means that the operating system might request data to be written to block 1,000, whereas the SSD pointer table contains an altogether different number. This is known as wear-leveling.

The data writes and retrieves, but there are differences. This process allows SSDs to manage data, always allocating an already-zeroed block for the write process while ensuring the flash memory degrades at an equal rate.

Of course, there cannot be pre-zeroed blocks forever. And while the SSD knows how to redirect its pointers to pre-zeroed blocks, it doesn’t know about operating system marked unused blocks. This is where TRIM steps in. The TRIM command allows the operating system to inform the SSD as to which blocks are available for pre-zeroing, saving time and keeping the write process fast.

However, TRIM doesn’t securely delete data How to Enable TRIM & Prolong the Life of Your SSDs How to Enable TRIM & Prolong the Life of Your SSDs If you want to maximize the lifespan of your SSDs, then you should make sure to enable TRIM support as soon as possible. Read More . Because the SSD hardware controller decides the blocks to level, you cannot be entirely sure as to when your drive will complete the task. Furthermore, SSDs use a small amount of unallocated space as a buffer during the wear-leveling process, essentially keeping a data record. Unfortunately, this means SSDs are susceptible to a range of data recovery techniques.

How to Securely Delete Your SSD

Now that we understand exactly what is going on with our SSD, it is time to consider exactly how to delete the data permanently How to Permanently Delete Data From a Flash Drive How to Permanently Delete Data From a Flash Drive If you want to obliterate your flash drive so that nothing is recoverable, you'll need to take action. Here are a few simple methods you can use that require no technical expertise. Read More .

There are a few widely-accepted methods and tools almost guaranteed to wipe your SSD completely.

Secure Erase Using Manufacturer Software

The first method is using Secure Erase. Secure Erase has a very high success rate, but some studies have found the command poorly implemented and as such, data remains on the drive. You can Secure Erase either within your operating system (if the target drive doesn’t contain your primary operating system), or use a Linux Live environment.

Many SSD manufacturers develop hardware management tools that feature Secure Erase functions:

Secure Erase Using Parted Magic

Many experts advise using Parted Magic The PC Repair Toolkit in Your Pocket: Boot CD on a USB Stick 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 over manufacturer-developed tools. 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, and boot from there 10 Tools to Make a Bootable USB From an ISO File 10 Tools to Make a Bootable USB From an ISO File Installing an operating system from a USB drive is quick and portable. We test a few ISO to USB tools to find the best one for you. 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 understand the risks, then hit Yes to erase your drive.

Wiping the Drive Using PSID Revert

In some cases, an SSD will fail to wipe because of hardware encryption. In these specific cases, it is sometimes possible to use the device’s Physical Security ID (PSID) to enact a PSID Revert. A PSID Revert effectively cryptographically erases the drive, then resets it to factory settings.

sdd securely delete data

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 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.”

Does It Delete the Data?

Secure Erase methods should theoretically delete all the data from a drive on the first pass. But as several studies have shown, poorly-implemented or buggy Secure Erase versions can result in lingering data. This data is recoverable. The best method is to complete at least two full Secure Erase processes to ensure that every SSD cell is completely clear.

Otherwise, if you’re not selling the drive and want to destroy it, just hit the SSD, repeatedly, with a hammer. Please note that this will destroy the contents of the drive as well as the drive itself. But at least your data will be irrecoverable.

Did you have your data recovered from an SSD? Have you tried to securely erase the data beforehand? Let us know your thoughts below!

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