We’ve written a lot about the ways of restoring your information after it’s been lost — and we’ve come to the conclusion that cloud storage is one of the easiest ways to prevent permanent data loss. But what if you want to do the opposite — to be completely sure that data on your hard drive is gone and forgotten?
Let’s talk about secure data erasure.
When would you need to erase data from your computer?
The most common cases are when you are selling or donating your computer, you want to safely dispose of your device or when you have to return a computer you’ve been using for some time, such as work laptop or a loaned device.
It’s important to securely delete your data because there is a high risk that someone can get hold of your personal information, such as photos, saved bank account access or other stuff you wouldn’t want to share with your run-of-the-mill homeless person finding your computer in a trash bin. While disposing of your device at places dedicated to electronics might reduce this possibility, you still can’t know where your files are going to end up.
Most file deletion methods actually don’t erase the files immediately and you can recover them. Especially with hard disk drives (HDDs), the computer does not erase deleted information, it just notes down that you can write over it. But what happens if you delete your information, switch off the computer and throw it out? There is no activity happening, so the computer does not receive new information to write over the old one, and the files are not truly gone.
How to delete your files indefinitely?
There are three main methods of deleting your files: software, hardware and physical.
The first and easiest method is downloading a special software program, which can be free or paid depending on your needs. Free programs usually offer the same result as paid software, but you won’t get a guarantee that all your files are really deleted. Most programs are simple and easy to use — you have to choose specific location on your computer, push a button and wait.
Be careful! It is very important to choose the correct drive to erase, otherwise you will delete useful files without the opportunity to get them back. The software option takes the longest time, but it is the one we would suggest to most regular users.
If you plan to erase information often, you can use a much faster and more effective procedure: the hardware option. This means buying a special device for data erasure, which is a much too expensive for everyday use. It can cost around 800 dollars, so this is a solution only if you are providing data erasure as a service or work in a large company.
The third, physical method, sounds like the most fun. It will only be useful if you are planning to throw out the computer or if the HDD is already corrupted. It works like this: you take the hard drive, a hammer and a nail. Place the nail in the center of the drive and move it a centimeter (or half an inch) to the right. Hammer it through the drive. For even more security (and maybe a bit of extra fun), you can put more nails through the drive. Don’t forget to use some safety equipment — you don’t want to get a flying piece of HDD in your eye.
What about SSDs?
Solid state drives (SSDs) are a bit more complicated. It is usually believed that information deleted from an SSD is gone forever. If you want to be extra sure, the easiest way is to go to the website of your SSD manufacturer and search for a SSD utility program made for your drive. However, we can never be sure with SSDs (some people think that using these programs can wear down your drive, which is not important when destroying a drive but quite important if you give it back to its owner).
Alternatively, you can encrypt your SSD with a really complex password to keep it safe from anyone trying to access the drive.
Or choose the hammer and nail solution — if a drive is smashed to pieces, the information is definitely gone.
Anything you do, remember: the data deleted will be truly gone, and none of the software recovery programs or dedicated professionals will be able to help. We would suggest backing up your documents before any such procedures — keep them safe in cloud storage and don’t be afraid of deleting the wrong files by mistake.