A secure hard drive erase – an additional piece of mind if your gear get’s stolen!

A well equipped cyber criminal can retrieve deleted data with ease as these data retrieval software tools are easy to acquire or even make. Those deleted financial documents you deleted? Most likely still exist on your computer. Those employee records you thought you moved off that one computer that you sold off. Yes, they likely still existed on the computer when you sold it.

While on your PC or laptop, when you delete anything, it doesn’t really delete the data.

What happens is that the reference to that data on the storage media (like a hard drive) is deleted, and the physical data still exists (i.e. the data is hidden). Eventually, this non-referenced deleted data will be overwritten by new data in the future. There is no default way to recognize that data unless you have some special software to revive those references and get deleted data back ( an undelete program).

If there is sensitive data that cyber criminals can get to, they can and often will find it if it was deleted like normal. But there are free software tools that help prevent this kind of data retrieval.

Physical Security Considerations Risk Assessment

Since deleted file retrieval can be a almost trivial thing to restore, there are several free software tools to achieve near impossible data retrieval after deletion. This kind of action done to your data is called “wiping” or to “wipe a drive” or “secure erase”. What wiping/secure-erase software does is overwrite the area where your data is located on your storage media with randomized data or just 0’s and 1’s several times, so that no trace of what was left there exists, destroying even hidden data. Unless you use full disk encryption, there may be several instances when you’ll need to use this kind of software:

  • You may need to use this wiping software every time you have to delete documents or files that contain sensitive information such as old employee records, obsolete billing information, etc.
  • You will want to use this software if you’re selling OR disposing of old or used computers or other devices
  • If you want virtually no chance of cyber-criminals recovering old documents you deleted in the past prior to having and using wiping software, you’ll need to ‘wipe’ all the free space on your drives, often an included extra feature of the wiping software.
  • If you want to restore a drive or storage media to a completely blank state with none of your files and want no chance for the next person to view your data (for example, if you’re selling your computer), you can either wipe your sensitive files and all free space first then restore the computer to a default/original state (an option usually contained within the computer’s OS), or completely wipe the drive in it’s entirety.
This is a magnetic hard drive (HDD). It’s reign is generally from the 1980s to the 2000s, being gradually replaced with SSDs, the new speedier hotness.

What Kind of Drive Do I Have?

To maximize secure erasure of drives, you have to figure out if you have an HDD or a SSD. Sometimes it’s not enough to just browse through the settings of your computer to figure out if you have an SSD or HDD as it doesn’t always say. Sometimes you can’t or don’t want to open your machines to read the label on the storage drive. Here’s some simple ways to determine what you have.

An HDD, or “hard disk drive” is what is considered a classic form of data storage with spinning magnetic disks and physical read-write needles- basically if you can hear a spinning or humming sound from your laptop or desktop (don’t get it confused with any noisy fan’s spinning!) and light noises every time data is being accessed, you have an HDD.

An SSD, or “solid state disk/drive” is what is considered newer, faster, thinner, lighter, less power hungry, more rugged, and completely quiet with no spinning or noises at all- no data access noises are ever heard either. Mobile devices and thin & light laptops have these kinds of drives, along with some desktop computers. Keep in mind, in some cases, SSD’s degrade and get their life-span’s shortened if HDD methods of secure erasure are used!

Often, the drive wiping software can tell you what type of drive you have.

For Traditional HDD’s

Here is a small list of software that can perform these wiping operations, some free and some not:

SSD Secure Hard Drive Erase?

SSD’s, the more modern mass storage drive media, typically needs different software to erase your data securely. And it’s only ideal if you’re getting rid of or wiping out all your data for a computer or device you’re about to sell, give away, or throw away.

Here is an good guide on using the manufacture’s tools to securely erase a drive in it’s entirety. Basically, you can use manufactures tools for the 3 major companies that make drives:

The most ideal way around this wipe all or nothing policy to use full disk encryption (like VeraCrypt, BitLocker (sometimes comes with Windows), or FileVault) that uses a strong password to encrypt the disk. If a powered-off SSD ever gets stolen, sold, given away, thrown away, lost, etc., generally no one can ever read your data.


Please be aware of any laws for the state that your business resides in regarding data disposal. You may be required to destroy data in a very specific manner. Find out about your legal requirements here:

http://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/data-disposal-laws.aspx

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