Tech Bits

How to Securely Erase A Hard Drive

If you just got a new PC with a better, bigger, and faster hard-drive, and do not know what to do with the old one, we highly recommend that you make a backup of your data and learn how to securely erase your hard drive before tossing it out of the window!

You have to clean your hard-drive off the data to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of “identity theft.” Simply hitting the “delete” button does not remove data off your hard-drive.

To permanently and securely remove the data off your hard disk and protect yourself from identity theft, you need to overwrite your storage device with “ones” and “zeros.”

Few Things to Consider Before You Begin:

  • Make a Backup: Make a copy of all your data on a CD/DVD disk, a USB drive(s), or external hard-drive. Once you run one of these programs, you cannot go back for anything, not even for a forgotten file.
  • Wiping vs. Encryption: There is another method available to protect you from identity theft: Disk Encryption Method! You simply encrypt your entire hard drive and throw away the encryption keys. But why take chances when both wiping and encryption method consume equal amount of time and effort, right? We suggest you erase all your data at once and be done with it, forever.
  • Download and Create a Bootable Disc: Since you will be wiping data from the drive that will most likely also contain your OS, download the OS .iso and create a bootable disc.
  • Set Drives to IDE Mode: To ensure everything runs flawlessly, re-boot your PC, enter into your BIOS settings, and set your drives to “IDE mode.”

Now that you are ready, please follow these steps to securely erase your hard drive using DBAN.

DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke)
DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke)

How to Securely Erase Your Hard Drive Using DBAN:

  • First, download DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) – a nice little program that allows you to completely erase your data – and burn the .ISO to a disc.
  • After downloading and burning the .iso to a disc, insert the disk into your CD/DVD/USB drive, and tell your PC to boot from the “optical drive,” instead from your hard drive (via the BIOS settings).
  • Erasing a RAID-enabled hard disk requires you to first disassemble the RAID volume and set each disk to JBOD mode.
  • Once DBAN is running in its blue and white screen (looks like its GUI is still in its early version), you just need to select the disk you want to erase and press the “M” key on your keyboard to select your preferred erasure process. Though there are healthy options available, I highly suggest you use three-pass “DoD Short” to erase the data on your drive.
  • Start the wiping process by pressing F10. The time taken to erase the data depends on the method you chose and the size of your disk. It could take either hours, or even days, so you might as well grab a cup of coffee and listen to music, or do something else you enjoy, while DBAN does its job.

Erasing a “Hybrid Drive” (SSD) Using Secure Erase and Parted Magic:

Erasing data from a traditional hard disk is different from wiping data off an SSD because of the “wear-leveling algorithms” – used to write data evenly on SSD. You have to use a “secure erase” command” to securely erase data off your SSD.

All modern SATA drives as well as older PATA/IDE drives have a firmware built into it, called “Secure Erase.” Some SSD drive has the ability to initiate secure erase, however, if your hard drive does not have this feature, there are two top tools – Secure Erase tool from Center for Magnetic Recording Research (CMRR) and Parted Magic tool – that can activate the command and erase your SSDs.

How to Securely Erase a Hard Drive Using Secure Erase:

  1. Download the Secure Erase tool and burn the .iso file to a CD drive, or flash drive and boot from it directly.
  2. Type “hdderase” in the DOS prompt and press ENTER to start the erase. This utility works equally well on both the mechanical hard disks and SSDs, making it an excellent for use with hybrid drives.

Though Secure Erase is a great performer, it is still not actively developed, and you may run into compatibility issues using it. If this is the case with you, we highly recommend that you use “Parted Magic” instead.

Originally developed for managing partitions, Parted Magic can also activate the Secure Erase command.

Parted Magic
Parted Magic

How to Securely Erase a Hard Drive Using Parted Magic:

  1. Download the Parted Magic .iso and create a bootable disc from it. Boot the PC, and when you see the Start-type button, at the lower left, click on it.
  2. Hover over the “System Tools” and select “Erase Disk” from the menu, which will pop up a window with several erasure options. The “External” commands works fine with the traditional hard disks, but to wipe data off your SSD drives, select “Internal: Secure Erase” command (it writes “0s” to your entire disk space).
  3. Click Continue, select the drive, and hit OK to securely erase your hard drive.

Note: Parted Magic may warn you that your drive is “frozen”. As suggested, just put your computer back to sleep, turn it back on, and run the utility again. If you are asked whether you want to run an Enhanced Secure Erase, select “No”. (Stick to what works most of the time.)

Over to you!

Think you have a better method of securely erasing your hard drive? Please comment below.

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4 Comments

  1. June 22, 2015 at 5:05 pm — Reply

    Or you could use a degausser which will completely erase all data from a hard drive before disposing.

    • June 22, 2015 at 8:32 pm — Reply

      Great point. Thanks for sharing!

    • June 23, 2015 at 3:19 am — Reply

      Degaussing is an unreliable method and should never be used as a stand alone process for removing data. Also, you will not know how successful it has been until you reinstall the hard drive and test it thoroughly.

  2. June 23, 2015 at 11:51 am — Reply

    After helping a many non-tech folks I thought it would be nice to add that “quick erase” may be the best option for people with large hard drives (250 and up) and a slower PC. Also, running DBAN from a flash drive seems to work in instances where DVD doesn’t.

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