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How and Why You Should Wipe Your Hard Drive

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Imagine every photo and document you have ever deleted when using your laptop. Now imagine someone else obtaining your hard drive and accessing every single item you thought was gone forever. One of the most important steps in preventing identify theft and maintaining privacy is taking control over what information is available to others. Doing this requires knowing how to wipe a hard drive. In this article, we go through some important background information concerning hard drives and then share several simple wiping methods for your use.


Definition of a Hard Drive

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A hard drive is a type of sealed file storage option that is commonly installed in laptops, such as PCs and Macs. Hard drives are compiled of multiple components, including a read/write head, multiple circular platters, a magnetic media layer, tracks, a spindle motor and a circuit board. Information is stored in tree-ring-like tracks along the magnetic layered platters. Basically, There are several types of storage devices some are mechanical type, some are not.

To put it simply, when the read/write head moves across the quickly rotating platters, the information is extracted for you to view in whatever format you prefer. A higher rotation per minute value thus equates to a faster processing speed. Here's Your Guide To Read and Write SATA Speeds.

People who own devices using hard drives know the mechanical motions produce small whirring noises along with occasional vibrations and heat. Hard drive technology has been in use since the late 1950s and continues to be a reliable storage tool for many devices. This is due to a large storage capacity and relatively inexpensive price per gigabyte.

When To Wipe a Hard Drive

Hard Drive

Hard drives can store hundreds to thousands of gigabytes of information. Wiping a hard drive means all the information is completely cleaned off the drive. This is different than deleting and sending material to a recycle bin. When data is deleted or formatted, all that happens is a file pointer is eliminated. The actual binary codes of ones and zeroes remain in the tracks of the hard drive. This means anyone with the right retrieval software can access the data and can also clone it as well. Learn how to clone an HDD here.

Wiping the hard drive of all information is a simple process that should be done whenever the device containing the hard drive is changing owners. Whether you are donating the device to charity, selling it online or giving it to your brother, you should wipe the hard drive clean to prevent any personal information from falling into the wrong hands down the road. You may also choose to erase a hard drive if you no longer need certain data and wish to free up space and start from scratch. Either way, learning how to wipe a hard drive is an important and applicable skill.

How To Wipe a Hard Drive

Hard Drive Wipe Software

Fortunately, the wiping process is simplified by the fact that it is operator independent. This means the process is very similar between PCs and Macs alike. Several steps that should be taken before initiating the wiping process include the following:

  • Back up valuable data: Any information you do not want wiped should be stored either on an online cloud or on a separate hard drive.
  • Record software serial codes: Wiping a hard drive will eliminate any pre-installed software, so having the serial codes will help you replace that software if necessary.
  • Charge device battery: Depending on the size of the hard drive, wiping may take a few minutes or a few hours and thus requires a full battery or connected power source.

After preparing the device, you can take the next steps towards completely clearing your hard drive. There are several different simple approaches for wiping the hard drive. The first method erases the hard drive using software designed for a reliable and permanent clean. Steps of the method include the following:

  • 1
    Download a hard drive wipe software: We recommend using the software Darik’s Boot and Nuke, which is simply referred to as DBAN. Another reputable option is Eassos PartitionGuru.
  • 2
    Prepare booting device: Because the wiped hard drive won’t have any booting system, a separate device is needed. Simply burn the ISO image from DBAN onto a CD, DVD or flash drive to be used for formatting later. An ISO image is an exact copy of information that can be exchanged between mediums.
  • 3
    Launch wipe software.
  • 4
    Select what is to be cleaned: You can select which hard drives you wish to erase. It is also possible to eliminate certain folders or single extra drives. Make sure you do not select any of your backup folders or drive.
  • 5
    Prepare to wipe: Specify the number of ‘passes’ you wish to use. ‘Pass’ refers to replacing pre-existing binary data with zeroes. Three or seven passes obtains a secure level of security. If you have time and wish to reach the highest level of security, use the 35-pass option.
  • 6
    Initiate wipe: Confirm the details of your desired wipe and then let the process begin.

Windows has a straightforward method for erasing all data from a hard drive. Different Windows versions follow a similar process with minor changes in phrasing. For Windows 10, use the following steps:

  • 1
    Access the ‘settings’ menu: This can be done through the start menu or by typing ‘settings’ in the search bar.
  • 2
    Select ‘Update and Security.’
  • 3
    Click ‘Recovery’ in the column on the left.
  • 4
    Navigate to the ‘Reset this PC’ option.
  • 5
    Click ‘Get Started.’
  • 6
    Choose ‘Remove Everything’ for an entire drive wipe.
  • 7
    Click ‘Next’ followed by ‘Reset’ and let the wiping commence.

Mac also offers a simplified hard drive erasing option. Unlike the first method presented, a booting device such as a CD is not necessary if the Mac being wiped is connected to another Mac with Firewire. Simply follow these steps:

  • 1
    On the Mac not being wiped, select ‘Applications.’
  • 2
    Select ‘Utilities.’
  • 3
    Connect Mac to another Mac using FireWire.
  • 4
    Select ‘Disk Utility.’
  • 5
    Select the disk you want to erase.
  • 6
    Let the wiping commence.

After initiating either method, confirm that the device is connected to a power source and then leave the program to work. The length of time required for the process depends on the drive size. For example, a 250 GB drive will take about an hour to complete one pass. This means a seven-pass erasure could easily take over seven hours to complete.

What To Do After Wiping a Hard Drive

how to wipe a hard drive. how to secure HDD

Once your hard drive has experienced a deep clean, it is ready to begin life again from scratch. If you wish to keep the device and bring it back to life, you must re-install any basic software you deleted. For example, you must re-install Windows on a Windows device. All software you want to re-install on your device must be stored on your booting device, which may be a CD or a USB stick, before wiping your hard drive. You may want to check How To Safely Store And Back-Up All Your Data.

Once the hard drive is erased, plug in the booting device and do a clean new install of the saved software. After re-installing software, it is helpful to run various software update checks to ensure everything is up to date and functioning properly.

Another option after erasing a hard drive is to move forward and get rid of the device entirely. Many organizations, such as the World Computer Exchange or Goodwill, accept computer donations. Research schools in your area to see if they have a need for computers or hard drives. You can also use various online platforms to sell your device. If you plan to give the device to a new owner, it is recommended to use more than three cleaning passes to ensure extra security measures. You can use cloud storage as an alternative storage in the future.

Risks of Wiping a Hard Drive

Hard Drive with b

Wiping a hard drive with multiple passes completely erases any and all stored data. It is impossible to use file recovery programs and hardware to retrieve this information. Prevent the loss of important documents by having a secure backup method in place before initiating the erasure process.

However, the contrary is also true. Even after 35 passes, there is still a risk that some private information can be accessed by others in the future. If you are seriously concerned about your private documents and other confidential material stored on the hard drive, consider taking steps to destroy it. Simply remove the hard drive from the device, use a screwdriver to take it apart and smash the drive platters into unrepairable pieces. It is still possible to use your laptop afterwards with a new and entirely clean hard drive.

Additional Hard Drive Advice

The main goal of wiping a hard drive is to make the drive as clear and clean as possible. If you do not wish to remove everything from the hard drive, consider other processes such as deleting or formatting. Deleting clears up space for new data on the drive while remaining restorable just in case you want to access it again. Formatting is similar as erasing data. However, it usually involves only a single pass instead of a more complete three- or seven-pass wipe.

The best hard drive wipe process is one that safely, completely and permanently eliminates all the data from a hard drive. Erasing your hard drive is a simple and easy way to protect your privacy before getting rid of a device.

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