Storage

Five hard disk cleaning and erasing tools

Brien Posey lists five tools that ensure your personal information is securely removed from all hard disks.

When it comes to disposing of old hard drives, simply erasing your files or reformatting the drive alone is not enough to ensure your privacy. In this age of rampant ID theft, it is more important than ever to ensure that your personal information is securely removed from all hard disks. That being the case, I decided to create a list of five utilities for securely erasing and formatting old hard drives.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Active@Kill Disk - Hard Drive Eraser

Active@ Kill Disk - Hard Drive Eraser is a free utility for securely erasing a hard drive. More importantly, this utility adheres to United States Department of Defense standards (DoD 5220.22M) for hard disk data removal.

Although some might consider it to be hokey, I especially liked the certificate feature. When a hard disk has been erased, the software generates a certificate that you can print as a way of proving that the disk has been securely erased.

Eraser

Eraser from Heidi Computers, is another free utility for securely erasing data from a hard disk. The most interesting thing about this utility is that it provides several different methods for overwriting data, based on a number of different standards. You can even define your own method for overwriting data.

This utility allows you to securely erase specific files, folders, unused disk space, or even the recycle bin. Furthermore, erase operations can be run manually or scheduled.

Shredit for Windows

Shredit for Windows is a privacy application that is designed to securely erase individual files, free space, or entire hard drives. The software lets you pick the write pattern and the number of writes. A number of different government standards are supported.

Shredit for Windows costs $24.95 for the download version or $34.95 for the CD-ROM version.

Disk Wipe

Disk Wipe is a free utility for wiping data from a hard disk in a secure manner. Like Eraser, Disk Wipe includes a number of different algorithms, including DoD 5220-22.M, and Peter Guttman. The really nice thing about this utility is that it is portable, so you don't have to install it to be able to use it. Furthermore, Disk Wipe works on more than just hard drives. It can also be used to securely wipe USB flash drives and SD cards.

Darik's Boot and Nuke

Darik's Boot and Nuke is a free, open source utility for securely erasing hard drives. Although this utility is designed to be secure and effective, the author does not explicitly guarantee that data is completely unrecoverable and there is no support for this application.

Also read:

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

36 comments
jani_lehtinen
jani_lehtinen

ErAce is one software that can be used. It will write over whole disk 1-100 times. It can be downloaded free from erace.it

stuartbell
stuartbell

Very nice resources for wiping a drive. A complete wipe is recommended especially when you are going to sell that old drive. For Mac drives Stellar Drive Wipe is the best.

Puma4927
Puma4927

Kernel File Shredder software is also a good tool that removes specific file completely from the computer system and maintains the security. The utility also supports password locking of software to prevent unauthorized usage and maintains a record of all shredded files and folders.

miclev2333
miclev2333

Windows 7 is not listed as an operating system in the Eraser info on CNET and on Heidi.ie as a system that Eraser can be applied. Does anyone know if Eraser works okay on Windows 7?

awolf
awolf

I was wondering why no mention of CMRR was made? although it can be a little hard to use, I have found that it can do a drive in less than an hour. be sure and read the white paper. i mostly used on laptops and would keep the program running in memory and simply would pop the drive in that i wanted to wipe and hit one button and usually in less than 40 min i had a "ABOVE DOD" wiped drive (read the white paper) by the way this is a free program http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/SecureErase.shtml The other good news is this was a university project to design this program, reading the history of its creation and goal of wiping a drive in as much the same way if you had ran a steam roller over it yet still be able to re purpose the drive. The other programs are nice and graphical easy to use and I even use one or two of them for cleaning thumb drives and folders ???..CMRR on the other hand is HARD CORE in a short amount of time ???so if you are in network operations and you are trying to stay on a schedule because you have a million other things to do (all network/server admins are like this) time and doing the job correctly are the name of the game???..”Protect the data” ? that means destroying it also!

btljooz
btljooz

While I like KillDisk and DBAN for disk wiping, I use secure file shredding while the disk is in use. The file shredder I use is a free one and is named ...get ready for this ... "[b]File Shredder[/b]". It's free, light and easy to use. It can be found at http://www.fileshredder.org/index.php Not only does it offer five different algorithms (including DoD and Gutman) for file shredding it also offers free disk space shredding. This way by the time the disk is ready for wiping most sensitive data is already buried under a bunch of data passes making it even harder to get at once the whole disk is wiped. (I know nothing about the other software discussed on that site.) That said, the method [I think] is the [b][u]most[/u][/b] secure to destroy data so that it is genuinely impossible to get at is complete destruction of the drive platters. I take them out and completely destroy them appropriately to what they are made of. The one drive I've had to destroy so far had metallic (of some sort) platters, so I had a mechanic friend of mine melt them away into oblivion with a cutting torch. I figured that the intense heat would irrevocably destroy the data on them but that set of platters just turned into so many ashes on the floor below the workbench. So much the better! Try to gather data from ashes! LOL! :D

Vitality01
Vitality01

Just wondering how CCleaner compares to these as this would be one of the most popular utilites recommended?

Gisabun
Gisabun

A hidden commend - at least availavble in the "old" days - is GDisk which was part of Ghost. Booty up off a CD, DVD or floppy [!!!] and automate the wiping. Spread out a bunch of PCs with power, put disc in. Boot jup with no keyboard or mouse and it runs automatically [if you scripted it that way]. As soon as it starts, eject and pop it into the next computer. Repeat process. Problem with many wipers is that you must install them and attach the drive to wipe. Not good if you need to do 100 of them.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

These software companies will not guarantee that your data can not be recovered. And how about the data stored on the G-List sectors. If you want to be sure the data will never be recovered; double ziploc bag it and pound it with a hammer.

RochSkelton
RochSkelton

DBAN is the only one of these that I have used, liked it, see no reason to try others... except: Do ANY of these utilities certify to completely wipe data from SSD drives? I am still refusing to use SSD's until I know I can wipe it when upgrading or replacing the drive.

Dyalect
Dyalect

I wonder if an Linux O/S install would be enough to "kill" data on a drive. Would love to test. Boot up ubuntu, delete partition, install. Then see what could be recovered from a previous install of Windows.

Force
Force

Don't forget CopyWipe by TerabyteUnlimited !! Excellent tool similar to DBAN. Of the above listed, my favorites are Heidi's Eraser and Disk Wipe.

CompZone9
CompZone9

Some PCs destined for the trash heap may not have working CD drives or the memory removed. Would be nice to know exactly what is required to make these wipe programs run. Do most of these create a boot CD? When you say it has to be installed, how exactly does it run if windows is wiped? I like the portable one that does not need to be installed. If they run in a memory shell, that's better, but you still need memory installed.

CORTZ21
CORTZ21

Webroots wseraser is also a great HDD eraser. It also follows D.o.D standards and guttman...very simple and thorough.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've had a Boot & Nuke CD for years. It's certainly easy to use, but it will never win any awards for speed. Any idea how fast the others are, relative to each other? Thanks.

statistiker
statistiker

HP have an excellent DOS-based utility called Disk Sanitizer. How does one erase dead disks? Does one have to dismantle them and cut-up the platters?

btljooz
btljooz

From Heidi's own website at http://eraser.heidi.ie/ First paragraph, second sentence: >"Eraser is currently supported under Windows XP (with Service Pack 3), Windows Server 2003 (with Service Pack 2), Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, [b][u]Windows 7[/u][/b] and Windows Server 2008 R2."< Emphasis mine. Scroll down and it states it again under Eraser Features. There you go! :) Now, Eraser is simply a file shredder. It is not a whole disk eraser like DBAN and KillDisk. File shredders require that they be installed on your operating system in order to work. Whole disk erasers like DBAN and KillDisk are run from removable media such as a floppy disk, CD or thumb drive and not only just overwrite your personal files but 'erase' the whole drive operating system and all. Therefore, be very sure that you know the difference between these two types of programs and which to use for what purpose. I use File Shredder (from http://www.fileshredder.org/) [because it's so light] while my computer is in use and when I need to overwrite a drive I use DBAN or KillDisk. File Shredder does work on Windows 7, too. So you may want to check it out, as well, and then decide which one you want to use. Hope this helps! :D

Gisabun
Gisabun

It doesn't mention on the site how it wipes, uses DoD or any other standard wiping or anything.

Gisabun
Gisabun

If they say they are using DoD wiping *AND* the DoD mentions themn [or RCMP in Canada], then I think they guarantee. DBAN was mentioned on the RCMP web site for awhile but now they mention just the commercial stuff. Note that DBAN's site does say "•We don't guarantee secure data erasure".

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

First, deleting the partition changes no bytes on the drive outside the partition table. All of the original directory and file structure remains on the disk. Second, even if other allocated blocks are overwritten by file data, data will be easily recoverable from the last assigned block, Third, even a full Ubuntu load is smaller than a full Windows load with equivalent applications. Think of all that now-unused space where Windows used to store data. We used to think a full format that wrote F6 to all bytes on the drive was sufficient to protect our data. We now know we were wrong; with modern data recovery procedures and techniques, data can be recovered going back several write-overs.

btljooz
btljooz

Well, I have Boot CDs of both KillDisk and DBAN if that helps. The two both also have an option to run from thumb drive. So take your pick! ;) Hope this helps a bit. :)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Depending on what you want to do with the drive afterward. If it's to reuse the drive in a situation where you still have control of it in some form or at the very least give it to a Trusted Person to use then IBM had a Utility called Wipe & Zap. Zap fried the Partition Tables and Wipe while not a DOD Spec Wipe did a reasonable job of deleting. Similar to a Low Level Format it wrote zeros to every sector of the drive. Not something to use in a Secure Location but good enough when you had lots to wipe and didn't need to worry about then being reused. I used to use Wipe for a lot of the then nasty Infections that could survive a Format and reinfect a machine latter. Much faster than Boot & Nuke or Kill Disc but defiantly not in a Secure Wipe Standard. Both Programs fitted on a 3.5 Inch Floppy so they where small and fast. I should still have a copy around here if you want one though now days I would think you'd stuff them onto the Root of a Thumb Drive though you did have to use a Boot Disc first to load the Operating System if I remember correctly but it's been a long time so you may have been able to boot off the Wipe & Zap Floppy but I really don't think so. Col

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I have never seen any of these programs exhibit anything I would call speed. How long it takes often depends on what method you choose. I have always considered the software way of erasing data as a precursor to using the drives in some way - other machines, donations, passing down to family - something like that. If the idea is that the drives will never be used again - then physical erasing is likely preferable - and, as someone suggested, it can be cathartic too. :)

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

our shop uses an in house app that is in a shell, so I do not know just what vendor makes the wipe software but it takes about 14 hours for a 300 gig drive. Hope Mark will be back with the times on his picks.

Fuzzilla
Fuzzilla

In laymans terms the official DOD method for securely erasing any disk (working or failed) involves dismantling the drive, crushing all parts to pulp, high-heat melting of all debris to a single unrecognizable piece, grinding the piece to within thousandths of an inch particules. Good luck reconstructing that. ;op Hey, you asked. :o) The USDOD article is out there somewhere but I didn't save the link.

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

but still, if someone gets the wiped drive and has enough time and money data can still be extracted from the wiped drive. I still like this method as it is not only effective but fun as well, and it covers the drives that are dead; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yd_O7-rqcHc

miclev2333
miclev2333

Thanks for the info. I followed this link, http://www.heidi.ie/ from the CNET download page. It's Heidi's "About" page and the first paragraph on Eraser does not list Windows 7 or Server 2008 R2. I did not pursue any further after reading this page.

awolf
awolf

MHDD sounds more like the Gibson Research product for finding bad sectors etc. along with being able to wipe the drive...... a good tool to have in your box if there is data that you need to recover on a perfectly good drive

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

but there are no claims that it is a secure erase.

btljooz
btljooz

It has several options for types of wiping in the Options>Settings section. It shows how many passes 1,3,7, or 35, but does not name them by name. 1 is usually a simple but ineffective method, 3 is usually DoD, 7 is yet another "secure method" and 35 is usually the Gutman method in several of the apps that I've tried/used. But since CCleaner chooses not to name names, it's anyone's [i]semi-educated[/i] guess as to what they mean.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't expect speed, I'm just wondering if there's anything where the process isn't measured in fractions of a day. Oh, and I take the dead ones to our machine shop, where the grease monkeys inflict all manner of physical destruction on them. The pieces go in the same bin with the production scrap, and you can't tell what was what.

Fuzzilla
Fuzzilla

That is an awesome vid, thanks for the link. Believe it or not the pieces of the platters can still be scanned for data reconstruction.

btljooz
btljooz

For the benefit of others, that CNET link doesn't take you directly to where you need to go. The one that CNET supplied is missing part of the whole URL that goes directly to the Eraser webpage and takes you to the main Heidi Computer site, instead. Notice the difference between the URL CNET gave and the one I gave? On the site that CNET gave simply scroll down to where there are links to Heidi's [b]Software Products[/b] listed and click on Eraser Download. That will take you to the site that I gave. That is where the information about what OSes are supported is updated. But, you are absolutely correct in that they do need to update their information on the page that CNET gave. Furthermore, I know for a FACT that Eraser does work on Windows 7 because I've installed it on Windows 7, myself, and it does work just fine.

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

I am pushing for, it is expensive to purchase but we have many units, sometimes 20 waiting wiping, it would be so much better to just crunch them up and dispose of the pc body with no drives on board, quick and easy. I do not endorse the shredder I posted earlier, just thought it was a cool video.