Wipe your hard drive clean

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CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

If you've ever wanted to get rid of an old hard drive, but want to make sure that people can't get at any potentially sensitive information, there's a few steps to get the job done.

Note that this tutorial assumes that you're already running an operating system off a different drive, and that the old one you wish to dispose of is plugged into and accessible by your new system.

Step one: back-up the whole hard drive

Considering the abundance and cheapness of storage available these days, it's entirely possible to simply create an image of your old hard drive and store it somewhere else, restoring individual files and folders when necessary. Just don't do the dense thing of storing the image file on the hard drive you made the image of.

Windows
If you're after a free solution, Runtime's DriveImage XML will fit the bill. Those who find more comfort in commercial solutions can't go past the excellent Acronis True Image Home 2010.

OS X
OS X has a disk image tool built in. Just go to your Applications/Utilities folder and run Disk Utility, select the disk or partition you wish to create an image of, and click the New Image button.

You can then view the contents of the image simply by double clicking on the file, or you can restore it entirely by clicking the Restore button in Disk Utility and following the instructions.

Linux
(Editor's note: depending on your set-up, you may need to sudo these commands) dd is the tool of choice here. For example, dd if=/dev/sda of=hdd.img will create an image file called hdd.img from the hard drive located at /dev/sda. Obviously you'll have to replace /dev/sda with the hard drive or partition of your choice.

In this command if represents the input file or device, whereas of represents the output file or device. If you've got multiple partitions on the one disk it can get tricky, so if you want to keep things easy, perhaps take an image of individual partitions rather than the whole disk.

To restore to another drive, just use dd again, but use the hdd.img file as the if argument, and your target drive as of.

If you'd rather not restore the entire image just to look at what's in it, you can mount the file to a folder to browse:

mount -r -o loop ./hdd.img /mnt/test

You should now see the contents of hdd.img in /mnt/test (assuming you've created the directory beforehand) — obviously you'll need to substitute in your own values for the image file and folder where you want to mount it. The -r argument to mount the image as read only is likely overkill, but we want to be safe.

To unmount, simply point umount at the directory the image is mounted in.

umount /mnt/test



Add Your Comment 17


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BillS4 posted a comment   

That is good advice to cleaning off a hard drive. I have a couple that I would like to clean up. It sounds like this is pretty easy to do too.

Bill | http://www.cleanerswarehouse.com.au

 

NeoJensson posted a comment   
Finland

One new free program to over write hard drive is ErAce. It works any PC that windows does and intel based Macs. It will overwrite hard drive 1-100 times. It is downloadable from sourceforge and erace.it

 

daphne posted a comment   

can a system restore wipe all the information on the computer

 

mcw posted a comment   

What do they mean by "Just don't do the dense thing of storing the image file on the hard drive you made the image of. "

 

t3kn0lp posted a reply   

:/ What is the point of backing up your hard drive, if you store the backup on the hard drive that has the chance of getting wiped.

 

DIB posted a comment   

Found the right version here:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/dban/files/

Under dban-1.0.7

 

DIB posted a comment   

DBAN instructions say - "Double-click the 'dban-1.0.7_i386.exe' program to install DBAN to a
floppy disk or USB flash device."

Yet there is no .exe within the dban-beta.2007042900_i386.zip ??

 

Raven McDonald posted a comment   

I formatted a hard drive and donated it to a church, thinking that my files were long gone. It's a good thing they're church people since after a week or so they informed me that they were able to obtain the list of my email contacts. I don't know how that happened but they told me that merely formatting the hard drive won't erase anything. They were the ones who decided to clean the hard drive.

 

PaulA1 posted a reply   
Australia

Geez, what kind of 'church people' use disk reclaim software to check out what was on a hard drive that was donated? I suppose if they were reselling it and needed to make sure there was nothing potentially embarrassing there ..

 

Darth Salem posted a reply   
Australia

exactly right, can you imagine the kerfuffle if a charity sold a computer than had unsavoury stuff on it.

While it is possible to retrieve information from the magnetic edge of a sector that isn't actually overwritteen no matter how many tiems you run dban, you really do have to weigh up the risk versus benefit.

 

Darth Salem posted a reply   
Australia

exactly right, can you imagine the kerfuffle if a charity sold a computer than had unsavoury stuff on it.

While it is possible to retrieve information from the magnetic edge of a sector that isn't actually overwritteen no matter how many tiems you run dban, you really do have to weigh up the risk versus benefit.


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