Whether it’s a personal computer or an office computer, the hard drive often contains important and sometimes sensitive information like your bank account numbers, social security information, copies of legal documents, employment records as well as office related data. You need to safe guard any and all information found in a hard drive if you plan to get rid of your computer.
Using the delete command on a file or group of files does not mean that the files are no longer in the hard drive. These “deleted” files can still be recovered by certain software. Likewise, formatting the hard drive does not completely and permanently remove all the contents of your hard drive.
Here’s what you need to do completely erase a hard drive.
- Backup the hard drive. Before you completely wipe out the contents of the hard drive, make sure you back up all the data. Prepare the appropriate storage media for the backup. You can use an external hard drive, a thumb drive, CDs or DVDs. Just make sure they have enough storage space for the backup. Once the hard drive has been completely erased, you cannot recover the files anymore.
- Choose a disk wiping software. There is a number of available software that you can use to remove all the contents of your hard drive. Some are free while others are available for purchase. The disk wiping software must be compatible for use with your computer’s operating system. Check the system requirements and other additional requirements for the software. What most disk wiping programs do is to fill the physical space on the drive with random data or a series of zeros. Active@KillDisk is one such software that performs this type of low level formatting. It is available as freeware. You can also purchase the professional version for more features.
- Run the software. After downloading the software, you can choose to run it from your operating system or create a bootable CD, DVD or USB device. The latter option allows you to run the software from the bootable device and gain access to the system cache. Most disk wipe programs come with user guides or readme.txt files. These contain the step-by-step instructions for using the software. Make sure to read the user guides especially if this is your first time to erase your hard drive.
- Specify the data to erase. You can actually wipe out only certain sections of the disk. Or you can totally erase all the data in one go. For example, in DBAN (low level formatting software), if you type in “autonuke” and hit the Enter key, the program completely erases everything on the hard drive for you. Again, it is best for you to read the user guide for the software you choose to make sure you are doing the right thing.
Notes: You can enlist the services of a professional to completely erase your hard drive. Tech security companies provide disk wiping services for a fee.
If you plan to sell or give away your old computer, make sure to permanently wipe out all the contents of the hard drive. Remember that deleting files and formatting your hard drive do not actually erase the contents. With the right software, you can still recover data from the drive. You will need software that wipes your disk clean.