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How can a hard drive be erased securely?

Q:

How can a hard drive be erased securely?

A:

Effectively erasing a hard drive involves more than just hitting the "delete" key. As it becomes more and more important to dispose of old electronics correctly, users need to know that there is a right way and a wrong way to erase, or "wipe," a disk drive before disposal. Effective methods for erasing drives help users to make sure that they won’t become the victims of identity theft if someone finds their data after they hand over their device for disposal.

In addition to simply deleting file information, experts recommend using sophisticated software that will actually replace the existing data with empty data or random sets of binary data. Various disk wipe utilities offer these kinds of services by using what’s called multi-pass technology to go over data multiple times to make sure that it is deleted. In addition, users can take advantage of some operating system features that may allow them to effectively erase everything on a computer, although it’s important to understand whether these features truly erase data or just make it harder to access. Users can get more information about this difference through software or operating system manuals or resources from the provider.

Another alternative to expensive hard drive erase methods is disk encryption. Here, the information on disks can be encrypted, or made unintelligible, and the physical disks can be easily stored for backup. Backup is important because after the disk is effectively erased, that data will not be available. It’s also important to understand that proper disposal and hard drive deletion is important, partly because of health and safety issues related to physically altering drives in electronics and releasing contaminants into the environment. While it may be unsafe to physically alter the drive, users can also use something called a "degausser," which scrambles the drive's contents and renders them incomprehensible.

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