If you’re like most people, before you sell your old computer or give it away, you follow a few simple steps. You backup your pictures, videos, music and other files and either format your hard drive or set it back to default factory settings.
That way, you believe, your computer starts off with a fresh system and the new owner won’t have access to your personal files and media.
When you set your old computer to default factory settings or your format your hard drive, you’re not actually erasing the data. What you’re really doing is erasing the location information for the data, essentially “losing” it on the hard drive. That way, the computer can’t “find” it.
However, that also means that it’s not gone—it’s there, and if someone really wants to find it, they can.
If you really want to fully erase the data on your hard drive, there are three fantastic, bulletproof ways to do so to ensure that no one will ever see your data.
If you’d like to completely and securely wipe your hard drive, you should use data destruction software, otherwise known as disk wipe software before reinstalling Windows.
DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) is one of the most popular (and free) disk wipe tools available for Microsoft Windows. It is also commonly used to fully remove viruses and spyware that may still be lingering on the computer.
DBAN, and other similar software, works by overwriting a hard drive many times in a specific way until it’s nearly impossible to extract information from it.
This is the best way to prepare your computer for recycling, so that the next user has a truly clean hard drive when he starts.
Warning: By using this method, however, any manufacturer recovery partition found on the drive will also be erased.
Because your traditional (not SSD) hard drive is coated with magnetic material, one (more high-tech) way to completely scrub your hard drive is to disrupt the magnetic domains on the drive. That way, you’re interfering with the essential storage method.
There are many options available for degaussing (including a few Youtube videos for the homemade variety), although the NSA-approved ones run into the tens of thousands of dollars . Relatively cheap wand degaussers will set you back about $500 .
Although even more effective than DBAN, for the average computer user, this is unfortunately not the most practical method.
Warning: If you do choose to go this route, remember that you are completely interfering with the hard drive’s data storage. That means that all the firmware will be erased, making the hard drive essentially useless. If you would prefer to use your hard drive again, #1 will be your best choice.
By far the most effective and 100% bulletproof method of deleting your drive is to physically destroy it. The utter destruction of your hard drive includes, but is not limited to: disintegrating, grinding, smashing, drilling, melting, pulverizing, and shredding.
Of course, take extra special precautions to protect yourself from harm.
It’s also possible to merely nail or drill through the hard drive as long as you puncture the hard drive platter. This makes it a relatively cheap and easy method, as well as the safest.
Warning: This probably goes without saying, but the act of utterly destroying your hard drive means that you, nor anyone else on this or another planet, will be able to use the hard drive again. Which is actually the point. Use this method if you want to completely and securely erase your hard drive forever. If you would like to use your hard drive again, please refer to method #1.
These are the three best ways to completely wipe your hard drive so that no one will be able to read your old data. Of course, decide which course of action to take to protect yourself the best.
Got any other tips and tricks? What’s your favorite way to destroy your hard drive? Let us know in the comments below.