Does formatting clean a drive?

Question

Won't formatting a hard drive remove or destroy the data on it? Or does that take my 8lb sledgehammer?

-Cliff

Answer

This question was answered on January 6, 2006. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The huge increase in the instances of identity theft has created a much better awareness of personal data on old hard drives.

Formatting the hard drive will remove the data from the sight of the average user and is somewhat effective if you plan on reloading the drive with new information, but it will do very little to completely destroy the data.

Formatting the drive is kind of like taking a book and removing the binding, stripping the covering and pulling the table of contents out then throwing it all in the trash The individual pages are still retrievable (with the right tools) and the ability to recreate the table of contents or view individual pages out of context is very possible for a moderately sophisticated computer person.

Depending upon how sensitive the data is and what is going to happen to the drive after it leaves your possession, you may be just fine formatting the drive or you may want to take additional steps.

If you have no idea what is going to happen to the drive you may want to either securely erase individual files you know are sensitive or securely erase the entire drive so it is much closer to a blank slate.

If you are giving your computer to a friend or family member or want to donate it along with the original operating system, you may only want to scrub off the personal files so the recipient will not have to reload everything from scratch

In those cases, a free utility called Eraser works very well Once installed, it adds an “erase” option to Windows when you right-click on any file, which is much better than the standard Delete option.

The Delete option generally removes the file from the user’s sight by simply removing the location information for the file from the “table of contents” The Eraser program will remove the pointer and actually erase the file making it virtually impossible to ever know that the file existed It can be downloaded at www.datadoctors.com/eraser.

If you want to securely erase the entire hard drive all at once, there are other utilities that are designed to do just that, but be very careful using them! Once you pull the trigger on these programs, there is no turning back A free “open-source” program called DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke) is available at http://dban.sourceforge.net .

DBAN is an advanced user tool that is written to comply with American, Canadian and Department of Defense secure disk wiping standards and is available as a download in both floppy disk and CD versions If you choose to create a disk with this tool, be sure to mark it very clearly so that it is not accidentally used incorrectly (Can you tell I’m nervous about mentioning this utility?)

If all of this is too technical and you want to make sure you stay in control of your old data, there is a low tech method that is easy to do…simply pull the hard drive out of the unit and hold on to it before you donate or sell the computer!

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on January 6, 2006