In the following article, I will share some simple but effective methods to erase your data permanently from hard disk drives so no one can recover it.
Wiping a hard drive means destroying the data from the hard drive permanently by overwriting with a pattern of 0’s and 1’s. Wiping is the most preferred way of data destruction when compared to physical destruction or degaussing, which does the same job but at a much higher expense and also generates a ton of e-waste. Further, wiping is necessary since deletion or formatting does not actually destroy the data from a storage device. Only the pointer or entry from the index table in the File System is removed. Thus, actual data remains on the drive and can be recovered with a basic data recovery tool by the person who is re-using the drive.
The following are five different methods to wipe an external hard drive (HDD) using Windows 10. Please note that I included an extra section for SSDs at the end.
Eraser is a free, open-source data destruction tool that lets you safely destroy data and wipe the external hard drive with the help of various data destruction algorithms. It’s a powerful erasure tool but is not built for minimalists as the software is highly complex and not user-friendly. The tool also helps you schedule eraser tasks (use it carefully since once files are deleted, they can’t be recovered).
It’s compatible with Windows 10 and previous versions (up to XP) and uses following data sanitization methods:
- HMG IS5
- DoD 5220.22-M
- GOST R 50739-95
- Random Data
- Write Zero
SDelete is a popular free secure-delete utility from Microsoft that can permanently erase your data using the DoD 5220.22-M data erasure standard. It runs from the command line and can wipe free space, files, and external drives & volumes. Follow these steps to wipe your external hard disk with SDelete:
- Download the SDelete.exe from Microsoft’s TechNet and place it under C:\Windows\system32\ directory
- Open Command Prompt with administrator rights
- Type sdelete –p 2 –s X:\*.* and hit the Enter key
(here, X is your external hard drive letter)
- Wait for a while for the erasure process to complete. Once done, you can reuse,, dispose, or donate your drive
If you want, you can run it again or increase the pass by changing –p 2 top 3 or more.
This is the only tool that supports 17 international data erasure algorithms, such as DoD 52220.22-M (3 passes/7 passes), NATO, etc., and uses them to destroy the data from a storage device beyond the scope of recovery (one at a time). After Erasure, the BitRaser for File is the only data destruction tool that generates a report (or Certificate of Erasure) to meet security and regulatory compliance.
BitRaser for File is also a privacy safeguarding tool, as it helps you securely erase your Internet activities, system traces, application traces, and confidential data with just a few clicks. Being the safest data erasure tool, it doesn’t let you to wipe or erase your system or program files or primary disk (volumes). Here are the steps you can follow to sanitize your external drive data with the help of BitRaser for File:
- Download and Install BitRaser for File
- Connect the external drive and run the BitRaser for File program
- Go to Tools
- Select the desired ‘Erasure Algorithm’ out of the available 17 different international Standards, and then choose the ‘Verification’ method
- Click ‘Home’
- Click ‘Erase Now’ in the left tree-view pane and then click your external disk checkbox to select it
- Click the ‘Erase Now’ button and wait for a while. The erasure time depends on what algorithm you chose and how many passes it’s going to run
DBAN or Darik’s Boot and Nuke is another data destruction software utility that can be used to completely wipe your external hard drive. But again, using DBAN for wiping external drive is a bit complex since it’s a standalone tool that boots from a USB drive just like a system repair disc or windows installation media. However, it perfectly does the job of destroying data from the external hard drive. It offers five different erasure algorithms such as Gutmann Method, DoD 5220.22-M, etc.
Moreover, DBAN is not a safe tool as it lists all connected disks and doesn’t differentiate between your system disk and externally connected disk(s). Therefore, you need to be very careful while using the tool for wiping your external hard drive. Also, it doesn’t detect or erase SSDs and doesn’t provide any certificate of data removal for regulatory compliance and auditing.
WinHex is a hexadecimal editor that is also used for wiping the hard drive. It’s an advanced tool and requires some technical knowledge to operate. So if you are not much familiar with computers, don’t use this tool. Once data is deleted from the external drive using WinHex, it cannot be recovered with any data recovery tool including WinHex itself.
Here are the steps that you can follow to wipe your external drive with WinHex:
- Download and extract the WinHex tool
- Run WinHex and select Tools > Disk Editor from the menu (or press F9)
- Select the external disk under ‘Physical Storage Devices’ and click ‘OK’
A hexadecimal and ASCII representation of the media drive is displayed
- Go to Edit > Fill Disk Sectors
- Choose either ‘Fill with hex values’ and specify a byte in hexadecimal value or select ‘Simple pseudo-random numbers’ and specify a range from 0-255
- Click ‘OK’. The tool starts writing the hexadecimal values to disk and overwrites existing data
- A small window displays the progress and estimated time. You have an option to abort the progress at any time by pressing ESC key or by closing the window
- Once completed, repeat steps 5 and 6 for wiping it again (complete sanitization)
One more issue with WinHex is that it only lets you erase external drive when you have the full version of WinHex.
We discussed various methods of wiping an external hard drive using Windows 10 and their pros and cons. While wiping a disk, it’s important to double-check the drive letter or the drive from the available options. Wiping tools that are available in the market aren’t always safe. So you need to take extra precaution while wiping your internal or external drive. However, there’s only one tool i.e. BitRaser for File which is completely safe to use and offers many features to safeguard your privacy. This tool allows you to safely destroy your private, confidential, and sensitive data without affecting any system or program file.
What about SSDs?
SSDs or Solid State Drives work in an entirely different way. SSDs store data on interconnected NAND flash memory chips that can retain data for years with no power supply. The SSD flash memory chips are completely different from the magnetic hard drive and thus stores data in a different architecture. So, overwriting of data does not work on SSDs due to wear-leveling, garbage collection, and other features.
As a result, none of the above-listed software is capable of completely destroying the data from an SSD. There are some exceptional cases where some of the data—even after multiple wipes—still remained on the sanitized SSD. Further, overwriting SSD several times significantly affects its life and performance.
For reliable SSD sanitization, built-in ‘sanitize operations’ are effective in destroying data if implemented correctly. These commands instructonboard firmware to execute data sanitization. Also, almost all SSDs comes with secure erase or sanitize utilities. You can use these utilities from your SSD manufacturer to sanitize SSD data. In addition, you can safeguard the data present on your SSD by using a strong encryption algorithm.
In addition, most current windows editions offer drive encryption through BitLocker/"Device encryption" that can be used to encrypt data on the SSDs. If your OS does not offer that (for example Windows 7 Home/Pro), you could possibly use so called self-encrypting drives ("SED") - maybe you are already using one but it's in an inactive state.
By default, new SSDs support AES (128/256-bit) hardware encryption and you can enable this with the help of SSD utilities and system BIOS.