You own a computer and then purchased a new one. After moving all of your important data to the new computer and deciding to sell or donate the old computer you are faced with the question of deleting the data or destroying the hard drive. One one hand, if you delete the data and reinstall the operating system the next owner can quickly use the computer. If you destroy the hard drive, another drive would have to be installed for the computer to be useful again.
What if the hard drive lands into the wrong hands? Your tax return, financial records, intimate photos, and more could be used against you.
Baring any of these extra efforts, you can use the procedures below to erase or destroy your data so the average individual won’t be able to recover anything from your computer hard drive.
Using Wipe Utilities
In order to prevent data from being recovered, you should use data wiping software to completely erase the information to Department of Defense (DOD) standards. I recommend the following free tools to sanitize or wipe a hard drive of information:
- Darik’s Boot and Nuke – a program that can be booted from floppy or CD to completely erase a hard drive
- Eraser by Heidi Computers Limited
- Active@ KillDisk
If you plan on giving your computer away, selling it, or otherwise disposing of it, please destroy the data on it by using one of the above wiping utilities.
Degaussing a Hard Drive
An extra step is to degauss the hard drive. Degaussing is a process whereby the magnetic media is erased using a reverse magnetic field to scramble the electronic data and make it unreadable. Unfortunately degaussing machines are rather expensive ($2000.00 or more) and are not realistic purchases for the average consumer. However, you can send your hard drive to a degaussing company and for a few dollars can have your hard drive completely degaussed and/or destroyed. If your data security is important enough, this is a wise step.
Physically Destroying a Hard Drive
Physically destroying a hard drive is by far the most effective method for the average person to ensure the safety of their data. However, please wear protective glasses and other gear if you decide to physically destroy a drive yourself. It can be a dangerous activity that I don’t recommend to everyone. Also, as a precaution, wrap the hard drive in a towel so the parts don’t fly off and do more damage.
Whether its smashing the hard drive with a sledgehammer, drilling holes into the drive, tearing the drive apart and destroying the platters, shredding the drive, or other methods your sensitive data will be safe.
For the most security, I recommend doing as many of the above procedures (wiping the drive, degaussing it, and destroying it) as you can. If a drive is wiped, degaussed, and destroyed the chances of recovering the data is almost nil.