Weekend Project: Securely erasing hard drives

Weekend Project: Securely erasing hard drives

Summary: Got a lot of hard drives to wipe? Here are three different methods you can use to wipe them – software, hardware, and the hands-on method.

TOPICS: Storage

Quite a few of you have been asking me this questions lately, so when this one dropped in the Hardware 2.0 mailbox today, I picked it:

I have quite a few old hard drives about the place that I've accumulated over the years that I need to wipe and get rid of. How do you suggest I go about this without eating my entire weekend?

Well, given that I don't know how many drives you have, and whether you want to sell them, recycled the metal, or reuse them, and given that I don't know whether you have drives that a defective and cannot be accessed, I'm going to suggest three different methods to use – software, hardware, and the hands-on method.


The cheapest way to tackle a pile of hard drives is to wipe them with a software eraser. I warn you though, it's not quick, and it won't work on defective drives.

My tool of choice for wiping drives is Darik's Boot And Nuke. It's free and does a good job.

Darik Boot and Nuke
(Source: DBAN)

To use it you'll need to create a wipe disc, and then hook up the drives you want to wipe to a PC and run the software. Be careful not to inadvertently wipe a drive containing data you need (I suggest using a spare PC or disconnecting all the data drives from the system you use, just in case.

I recommend that you read and thoroughly familiarize yourself with the documentation for this software – if you inadvertently nuke the wrong drive — and if you're using a working PC to wipe drives, that can happen if you take your eye off the ball — YOUR DATA IS GONE!


If you don't feel like taking the software approach, another method you can take is to employ a hardware tool to do the job. At this point things start to get a little expensive, but it is faster and does mean that you don't have to dedicate a PC to the wiping operation.

The tool I use is Wiebetech's Drive eRazer Ultra. It's a fast, reliable, stand-alone solution to wipe disks. You connect the drive up, tap a few buttons, and Drive eRazer Ultra takes care of the rest.

Wiebetech Drive eRazer Ultra
(Source: Wiebetech)

I've used this tool to wipe dozens of drives with great success. It's an expensive solution for sure – the eRazer Ultra starts at $200 – but if you have a lot of drives to wipe, it's well worth it.

The hands-on method

OK, what do you do if you want to wipe dives quickly (for example, you're just going to take them for recycling – or the drives died in some way with data still on them that now cannot be wiped?

Here's where the hands-on method comes into play.

You will need:

  • A hefty hammer (16oz will do)
  • A thick nail – a 6-inch nail will do file
  • Thick gloves – because you're going to be hammering that nail though the drive using the hammer, and you will almost certainly hit your hand
  • A block of wood – so you don't nail the drive to your floor (preferably do this outside if you can)
  • Eye protection – you only get two to play with!

Now you apply brute force. Ideally you want to put a nail through the platters of the drive, going all the way through (it's actually not as hard as it sounds. I aim for this red X:

By aiming for this spot not only will you smash the platter holding the data, but also destroy the heads.  If you're really paranoid, put a nail through the green stars too.

This is a very effective method of destroying drives, and it's also a lot of fun and a good way to relieve stress!

Topic: Storage

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  • Hammer and nail ha..

    Or you can just used a powerful magnet..in that way you wont have swollen fingers the next day
    • With the coercivity of the mediums used today

      I doubt you can get a magnet close enough, or have one powerful enough, to do the job.
      • Borrow it

        From walt white and Jesse ....breaking bad.;-)
    • Hammer and nail ?

      Whats wrong with a good old fashioned pick axe?
      Henry 3 Dogg
  • Acetylene torches work well, too. (nt)

    Hallowed are the Ori
  • Re: Erasing Hard Drives….

    Ive got stacks of SATA Hard Drives sitting here which theoretically have still got a good bit of life in them. Running an IT business many of my customers ditch their Desktops in favour of a Laptop. Much of the time they ask me to take the Desktop away to strip for spares including the Hard Drive. Many of these still contain Personal Data. Although not as thorough as I would like I tend to use a GParted LiveCD which is a useful tool to erase the Data by formatting the Hard drives.
    However even after the GParted process I am reluctant to use the Hard Drives on other machines given the Hard Drives have not received a Deep Format.

    Any suggestions without spending mega amounts of money?
    • Re: Darik's Boot and Nuke….

      Is it thorough enough to use Hard Drives on other machines that have previously contained sensitive Data ?
      • Depends on the requirements.

        One place I worked would not allow any disk that once contained classified information to be reused EXCEPT in the area where the classification AND compartment were the same.

        Any other time the disk had to be ground into powder - and they had a local site with a grinder specifically for that purpose.
    • Use the terminal in gparted

      Run a dd command to zero out the disk...

      Data gone.

      If you like you can do multiple passes, or use the random program to randomly decide if the block should be 0 or 1
      • Re: Use the terminal in gparted….

        Many thanks for the tip.
        • No dramas

          Remember to tripple check your if and of (input and output) rember it is whater is after of that will be erased

          Personally i always disconnect any drives i don't want erased when doing this kibd of thing from a live enviroment!
          • Just as an example

            Your if should be /dev/zero or /dev/urandom

            Your of should be the drive you want blanked

            Block size... I use 512k; you can set it to 1m, or even bs=1 but it will take days to dd a drive with random and a block size of one - it'd basically go to each byte of the hdd then go to the randomizer then write output over and over. As a rule, it's best not to go below 512 bytes as a block size.

            Finally use the argument noerror with older disks - if a section is unreadable it won't stop.
  • Destroying hard drives

    A skeet range with 12 ga. and BB shot works wonders! Do wear ear and eye protection though and observe safe distances from others shooting the clays...
    • Thanks for that

      Mr Cheney...
    • My Friend up you one

      He used a 50 cal gun One shot is all it took.
  • Chop Saws are great as well

    Just put it on a metal chop saw and run the blade down the middle of the drive. You get all the platters, control boards and case in one go.

    Too bad you can't do a low level format. Don't remember the entire Seagate comment, was something like DEBUG G=C800:8 or some stupid thing like that. At least then you could re-use the drive, unless of course it held super classified info.
  • If physically destroying, it's best to contain all debris.

    Why contain it? You don't know exactly what materials are in the drive.

    That's the advantage of nails. They neatly puncture, destroy, and seal.
  • Drill

    Just drill a couple holes.
    Drop them in a bucket of salt water.
    Leave them for a week or so.
    Toss them in the trash.
    Who would ever find them.
  • Fire !

    And lot's of it !

    Destroys the magnetic dipoles.
    Alan Smithie
  • Best way to kill the hard drive...

    Take the top cover of the hard drive off so that the platters are exposed. Get a big plastic container bin and go to home depot and by a bottle of muriatic acid and pour it in, you only need to have the hard drive submerged in the acid for about an hour. Once the acid has eaten away at the hard drive platters you can then just toss the drive.