How To Securely Wipe your Hard Drive

Ever wanted to securely wipe your hard drive prior to selling or giving it away for someone else to use? I’m praying you don’t just hand over your hard drive as is and hope that the next user wouldn’t scourge it for your personal data.  Deleting and even a simple reformat does not guarantee that your deleted data cannot be recovered. This is one of the main ideas a lot of casual computer users have. If I trash the data using the Recycle Bin and I don’t see it anymore on my computer, then technically the data should be erased right? Why else would I go through the process of deleting it if it weren’t actually going to  delete it for me?! Well, sadly to say it, that’s how computers work and you better get use to the idea if you’re ever going to sell or donate a used hard drive.

I’ll not repeat the lecture here. If you want a more thorough explanation of how hard drives stores and deletes your data, please read my earlier article. In it, you’ll learn just what happens to your data when you empty it from the recycle bin. I’ve also detailed a couple of ways to securely wipe away your data but not your entire hard drive. Here, I’ll do just that. I had to recently help a friend sell a hard drive he was using for many years. It was still in excellent condition and he didn’t want it to go to waste since he’s going to buy a better computer. I told him that I would help to wipe it free of his data and he had no idea what I was talking about. When I explained the process to him (which took quite some time), he was absolutely shocked. I was not really surprised at his reaction since this is the same person who thinks that just because a hard drive has been yanked out of his computer that it can’t be accessed by anyone else. How many users do you know that thinks the same as my friend?

Even if you don’t want to make some money by selling your old hard drive, please at least consider donating it to other organizations or public charity groups. If you’re afraid of these people being able to access your data once they have your hard drive on hand, then you’ll definitely want to use a hard drive wiping program such as the one I will be talking about here.

Darik’s Boot and Nuke

It’s definitely possible for you to spend money on commercial software to help with the hard drive wiping process. Or you could choose not to spend a penny and use a freeware that does the same job, if not even better! Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) is such a utility that will pretty much destroy all data on a hard drive so that forensic utilities will have a tremendously hard time recovering the data, if possible at all. Once initiated, DBAN will overwrite your entire hard drive space with random data. File recovery utilities work by looking at the file locations marked as empty by the hard drive (when in reality they are not really “empty”). By overwriting these marked locations with random gibberish, it will be really hard for these utilities to recover the original data.

You can download Darik’s Boot and Nuke from here.
DBAN is open-source and is the utility of choice for many professionals out there. It has been proven in the field. You can’t mention disk wiping without mentioning DBAN. I’m serious.
DBAN is not kidding when it says it will completely wipe your hard drive to make data unrecoverable. It doesn’t matter how many partitions you have on that hard drive or what files are currently stored there. Encrypted files, hidden files, large files, small files, pictures, programs, emails and just about everything else you can think of will be completely wiped out! If you haven’t made a backup of your precious data prior to initiating DBAN, you really can say goodbye to them forever because I really doubt you’ll be able to recover them.
  1. Once you have the .ISO file downloaded, which shouldn’t take long at all, you can then go ahead and burn it to either a blank CD or DVD disc. You can use whatever disc burning utility you have installed or you can take a look here for a free one. Windows 7 also comes with built-in .ISO burning capabilities. All you have to do is right-click on the .ISO file, Open With and then select “Windows Disc Image Burner”.
  2. Configure your computer to boot from the CD/DVD drive first and insert the DBAN disc into the drive. Immediately, you should be presented with the DBAN welcome screen. If you want to select from a list of deletion methods, go ahead and press F3. However, unless you want to research each method as to what they are and how they work, it’s generally safe to just stick with the defaults. For example, if you’ve selected the Gutmann method, DBAN will erase/overwrite your entire hard drive 35 times over! This will take a very long time. 2-3 passes is enough and that is exactly what the default performs for you.
  3. If you are sticking with the defaults, simply hit the Enter key on your keyboard. Whatever you do, please DO NOT type in the word “autonuke” if you have multiple physical hard drives installed on your system! I repeat, DO NOT type in that word at the boot prompt and hit enter if you have two or more physical hard drives installed. If you do so, DBAN will not give you the opportunity to select which hard drive to wipe. They mention this at the welcome screen but to a casual user, they will have no idea what the heck is interactive mode (which is another term for “manual mode”). Therefore, just press Enter to be safe!
  4. At the next screen, you should be able to see a list of all the physical hard drives attached to your system. Simply hit the Enter key over each drive to have DBAN work on it. I’m sure you know the consequences of selecting the wrong drive! DBAN can wipe multiple hard drives simultaneously. If you really want to be cautious, simply open your computer case and remove the power cable for the hard drive(s) you do not want wiped and restart DBAN. In this screen, you can also select the wipe method as well as how many rounds DBAN should wipe over your data. Again, it’s best to just stick with the defaults, which means don’t change anything unless you know what you are doing!
  5. Once you are finished making your selection, hit F10 to begin. The entire process can take anywhere from 4-5 hours or even more depending on your hard drive specifications. DBAN ensures that every bit of hard drive space is entirely overwritten and that is why the process can take so long. It’s best to start the process prior to heading to bed. You’ll get to see the estimated remaining time value but it’s not very accurate as it fluctuates a lot. Once the wipe procedure has completed, simply eject the disc and either restart or power down your computer. If you’ve removed the power cables for any hard drives, be sure to reconnect them.

Once the hard disk has been thoroughly wiped out by DBAN, you can now feel safer selling it on eBay or giving it away as a donation!

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