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How To Erase Hard Drive - How to Erase a Hard Drive

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Identity theft is a very real and serious problem that a growing number of people are finding themselves the victims of. Data thieves have been known to use viruses and Trojan horses to extract your information from your working computer, but you can beat most of these with a good anti-virus program. A more dangerous target than your live computer is forgotten information on your old computer. The hard drives on your old computers still contain all of your personal data, and in many cases, it is easily recoverable even if you think it was erased. In a famous MIT study, two students were able to retrieve over 5,000 credit card numbers and other financial and medical data from 158 used hard drives legally purchases from various places. This experiment has been repeated and verified hundreds of times over since then.

You may be asking about why people don’t understand how to erase a hard drive. After all, you just highlight the files or folders you want to erase and click delete, right? Although many people believe that deleting files in windows erases them, this is completely wrong. Windows and most of the other popular operating systems save data with easily-read flags that tell the system where each particular piece of data is stored. When you want to retrieve or run a file, the system reads the flags to know which data to read. When you use the delete feature of your operating system, all you are really doing is removing the flag so the system sees that space on the hard drive as available for new data. If your computer has not used that space yet to save new data, your old data is still there in the same quality it existed in before you deleted it. Using special software, it is a simple matter to read all of this data.

If you know anything about computers and hard drives, you may know about the easy feature of formatting a hard drive. Many people mistakenly believe they know how to erase a hard drive by formatting it. While formatting may be a little more secure than simply deleting files, it is not foolproof. The tables in which the data is stored in the drive are all erased, making it hard to piece together the data, but a computer specialist can still recover the data.

If you want to know how to erase a hard drive with any degree of certainty, you are limited to three options. Two of these options are software solutions. Almost all hard drives manufactured since 2001 have a series of commands embedded in them called Secure Erase. The problem is that in order to prevent accidental erasures from which there is no recovery, your computer BIOS switches off this feature. However, almost all hard drive manufacturers have a software utility that can be used to activate Secure Erase. These utilities are available free for downloading from the manufacturers’ websites.

The second option that can be used to erase a hard drive is to use third-party software, often called either data wiping software or disk sanitizer software. These programs operate on the same principle as Secure Erase. They fill in all the sectors of the hard drive with ones or zeroes. Many of them do so multiple times. Federal regulations call for all government hard disks to go through this “zero-fill” process a minimum of seven times, alternating between ones and zeroes each time.

The last option on how to erase your hard drive is the most thorough, but it has one major drawback – the hard drive is rendered a useless chunk of metal. This option is physically destroying the hard drive. This can be achieved by repeatedly smashing it with a hammer, drilling holes through it, sawing it in two pieces, or any other of innumerable methods of destruction. For a fee of $40, you can even send your drive (or entire computer) to a company called Data Devastation, who will take it to a firing range, fill it with bullet holes of various caliber and power, and post pictures of it on the web for your piece of mind.

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