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How to truly erase your data?

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To what lengths do you have to go to ensure that the data on your computer is really, truly, utterly *GONE* when you erase it?

It depends to what degree of security you need.

  • Terrible: Delete all of your files. (The bad guy can still pull them from the recycle bin!)
  • Minimal: Delete all of the files and empty the recycle bin. (There are ‘undelete’ tools that can still get the files back.)
  • Better: Use a tool like “Eraser” which writes zero bytes over unused sectors of the hard drive. (This is fairly good - providing you deleted ALL of your files - including stuff in temp folders and in places that individual programs might hide them.)
  • Better still: Reformat the hard drive - fully (not a “quick” reformat), then reinstall the operating system from the original media. (This is MUCH better, and probably good enough for 99.99% of people…but it’s not perfect. Hard drive heads wobble a bit as the disk spins under them - which can leave a tiny amount of the original data track still present. People with deep pockets like the NSA are sometimes able to recover data still.)
  • Better yet: Do that many times over - when the computer is just turned on - and again when it’s been running for a while and everything inside is warm. (This is even better because at different temperatures, the head will take different paths over the magnetic tracks…but it’s still not utterly perfect.)
  • Still better: Remove the hard drive and smash it to pieces with a sledge hammer. (But people with deep pockets can read back at least some data from broken and scratched disk platters)
  • Even better: Hold a large magnet over the drive while it’s spinning and THEN smash it to pieces with a sledge hammer. (A magnet should totally erase all magnetic signature from the drive - and a sledge hammer helps some more!)
  • Best of all: Find someone with a blast furnace…drop the hard drive in there! (DONE!)

But honestly - unless you have military grade secrets - or you’re a very high ranking drug lord…reformatting the hard drive is the safest and sanest thing to do. Regular criminals and low-grade hackers can’t recover data from that.


Reader Forum: How to truly erase your data?

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From: Steve Baker  Date: 2017-06-14 06:58:49  

I agree that this isn't something you should be doing regularly.

From: Archon Shiva  Date: 2017-06-12 08:09:18  

Assuming magnetic storage, 3-4-5 used to be good strategies in the 1990s, but are terrible now, because MTBF (the hard disk's life span) hasn't gone up as fast as disk size, and mass overwriting will bring your disk to the edge of failure, far increasing the risk of future data loss.

Google indirectly did some heavy research on that circa 2007, when they were evaluating RAID systems.