When Hard Drive Formatting Isn’t Enough—Removing the Data

In the last blog, we explored what disk formatting is, and how reformatting your drive still leaves your data on the drive.  In this blog, we’ll look at how to remove this data, so that it won’t fall into the wrong hands.

If you reformat a drive thinking that you’re removing data – think again.  In order to actually remove the data, you will need to use a disk wipe (or sanitize) program, or a device that includes the sanitize feature, that overwrites the data so that the data is no longer on the drive.  If this is done using a computer, it can tie up the computer for hours, while the program chugs away, overwriting the data on the drive.

Various organizations such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Department of Defense (DoD) have developed recommendations for effectively sanitizing drives.  For example, a DoD recommendation involves overwriting each sector on the drives multiple times.  Software is available to perform such drive wipes.   Unfortunately, the processes can take quite a bit of time, – especially for a large drive, and when run by a PC, can significantly strain the resources of the computer performing the write.  If you’re performing a wipe using your organization’s server, the clients may feel a general slowdown of applications run from the server while the wipefile or sanitization software is running.  For these reasons, standalone devices that can sanitize hard drives are often preferred by organizations and individuals that want this capability without having to bog down their computers.

Aleratec 1:5 HDD Copy Cruiser Hard Disk Drive Duplicator and SanitizerAleratec provides standalone sanitizing in its 1:1 HDD Cruiser Hard Disk Drive Duplicator and Sanitizer, 1:5 HDD Cruiser and Sanitizer, and its 1:11 HDD Copy Cruiser – 11 HDD Duplicator and 12 HDD Sanitizer. These devices can make exact duplicates of hard drives in addition to sanitizing drives.  Multiple sanitization options are provided, from a DoD recommended algorithm to the NIST recommended Secure Erase method, without requiring a connection to a computer to do it. Further, they can even sanitize multiple drives at once, overwriting the sectors in all the drives simultaneously.

The ability to do bulk sanitization, rather than drive by drive, can save an organization a great deal of time.  The previously mentioned Secure Erase option on Aleratec tower hard drive duplicators also saves a great deal of time.  This method uses a SATA hard drive’s own programming to overwrite data on the drive at much faster speeds that traditional overwriting.

In this short series, we’ve looked at what formatting is, how reformatting a hard drive leaves data exposed, and how sanitizing hard drives can protect the data on the drives from prying eyes.

Mark Brownstein is a technology journalist and technology consultant who specializes in explaining and interpreting new technologies, and clarifying how to integrate these new products into current systems. He has been Editor-In-Chief at computer technology and networking publications, has held significant editorial positions at major technology magazines, and is a frequent contributor to various technology magazines. He has written seven books. He is Microsoft Certified, and spends much of his time testing hardware and software products, running his own networks, and learning the best ways to get computer systems running and to keep them running.

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