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How can I reliably erase all information on a hard drive?

I'm looking to see if there's a method that can completely wipe out the content of a HDD, so that nothing previously on it can be recovered by any means, even by a professional. I'd like the HDD to be useable afterward by someone else.

I've come across HDDGuru, File Shredder, and DBAN.. As I understand them, they write on the HDD over and over to make recovery difficult at the minimum. How effective are these? DBAN seems the most promising..

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marked as duplicate by nealmcb, Scott Pack, Iszi, this.josh, Rory Alsop Feb 13 '12 at 7:49

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4 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Zero out all the data if the drive is magnetic.

The DoD 5220.22-M specification requires 3 passes, though I personally go for 7 each time.

-> Related Gizmodo article

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The best way to erase a magnetic hard drive (not SSDs) while leaving the drive working is the ATA Secure Erase command.

For a single use of this, a (relatively) simple'ish way of accessing a compatible, modern tool which implements ATA Secure Erase is:

  • Download and run UNetbootin to create a bootable USB stick.

  • Download GParted Live or a similar special Linux distro oriented towards disk tools. (Using other Linux disk images will probably also work.) Install the disk image to the USB key using UNetbooting.

  • Boot from the USB key, and enter a Linux command line. From here, perform the secure erase with HDParm.

Good end user tools for ATA Secure Erase are unfortunately a bit hard to come by. I don't know of anything much easier than the above.

If the above software isn't working for you, then just use a single wipe pass from conventional software that overwrites the drive with random data. That's still good enough. Such software for example be found on the Ultimate Boot CD.

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I recall reading a test where a shockingly large percentage of drive's firmware would accept the secure erase command, but basically so nothing. It was a NO-OP that returned no error. Much safer to do a single-pass random data overwrite with DBAN, and it takes the same amount of time. –  rmalayter Feb 19 '12 at 3:29
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When in doubt a sledgehammer, a blast furnace, or thermite does the trick.

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"I'd like the HDD to be useable afterward by someone else." It will be reusable but only as a paperweight or doorstop. –  robrambusch Feb 11 '12 at 18:12
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DBAN is great. I know first hand that it is used in big corporations and in recycling shops.

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