Whilst the main focus of this website is to help our readers to backup and secure their valuable data, there are times when such data must be securely deleted or destroyed from a hard drive in order for the device itself to be sold, repurposed, recycled or otherwise disposed of without the risk of any personal data finding its way into the wrong hands!
Unfortunately, simply deleting any important files which reside upon any given disk will rarely be enough to ensue they are securely removed and unrecoverable, in many cases when a file (or files) are deleted from a disk they remain recoverable thanks to the use of specialist data recovery software. For this reason, whilst these specialist recovery tools exist, we must make use of specialist software tools and deletion methods to ensure any disks are securely wiped in such a way that recovery of any of the data which formally resided on them cannot be recovered!
This guide will look some of the key factors to take into account when aiming to securely wipe a hard drive clean, I will then move on to list some of the best tools for performing a secure wipe further down in the guide.
Reformatting vs Wiping a Hard Drive
Before getting started, one of the first and most important factors to take into account (and something many people might consider when wanting to clear or reuse a hard drive) will be simply reformatting the drive in question. Whilst this reformatting process might be useful in certain circumstances (such as reinstalling an operating system) the reformatting process itself does not securely wipe the drive’s contents and any files previously stored upon this drive might be still recoverable!
With this in mind, DO NOT RELY UPON REFORMATTING OF A HARD DRIVE AS A METHOD FOR SECURELY DELETING DATA – THE DATA IS POTENTIALLY STILL RECOVERABLE IN SUCH CASES!
Whilst reformatting a hard drive might make it appear that any data once stored upon it has been removed (if the drive is, for example, re-attached to a Windows PC and browsed it will appear empty), specialist data recovery software could be used in such cases to potentially recovery any files which used to formally resided on the disk. With the above in mid, we must make use of specialist software for securely wiping our disk when applicable to do so (software which will be looked at a little later on in this guide).
Things to Consider Before Wiping a Drive
If you have made the decision to securely wipe you hard drive, for whatever reason, then there are several things to consider and prepare for before undertaking the work. The first of which begins with the securing of any data on the disk already which might need to be kept safe or accessible form another disk after the wiping process has completed.
If this is the case that important data must be extracted from the drive in question, then there are several methods available for backing this data up, this could be as simple as connecting the hard drive to a secondary device and copying across the files manually or simply making use of disk imaging software which allows for an image of the entire disk to be taken and kept safe else ware.
REMEMBER – Once a drive has been securely wiped, the data will be virtually impossible to recover (even with specialist data recovery software)! With this in mind, be very careful when making the decision to wipe a drive and always double check that any backups or copies of data retrieved from the drive are accessible and usable in cases where such data is to be kept safe!
With any existing data accounted for, the next step to consider is what device is to be used for the wiping process and how the drive itself will be attached to said device. If the drive being wiped is the one and only drive within a PC (which is, for example, about about to be recycled) then the PC itself could be used for running the wiping software. Alternately, if the drive is an external drive or an internal drive removed form another device, then it must first be connected to an existing (and operational) PC for the wiping software to be run.
NB – I will cover using both Windows based wiping applications as well as the use of a Live CD later on in this guide!
At this point in the process, with any important data backed-up and a working device available for running the wiping software, we can move on to the next section where we will see some of the different types of wiping operation available to us.
Methods for Securely Wiping a Hard Drive
Before looking at some of the many software titles which allow for a hard drive to be securely wiped, we need to understand some of the different wiping methods available to us and the differing levels of security they provide.
This starts out with the basic (but effective) “all zeros” method, a method which wipes the disk by filling it entirely with 0’s! In other words, when using the “fill with zeros” method, every sector of the disk is overwritten with garbage data (in this case a 0) so as to make sure that one of the existing data is left written on the disk.
NB – The process of deleting data form a disk under normal circumstances will simply de-tag the data, this means the data will still exist on the disk but will simply be ignored by the operating system (and thus could still be recovered with specialist software in many cases). When overwriting data on a disk (with zeros, as mentioned above) we actually remove the existing data and then replace it with something else, thus making the original data virtually impossible to recover after it has been overwritten!
Other methods for securely wiping a disk drive include those which will overwrite the disk in question multiple times over and with random data instead of just zeros (this includes the DOD 5220.22M standard for securely cleansing hard disks to military standards). Methods such as this help to ensure that the entire disk surface gets re-written with random (garbage) data multiple times thus ensuring that any previously stored data on the drive is overwritten several times over and thus becomes virtually impossible to recover!
NB – Whilst more secure methods such as those employing the DOD 5220.22M standard can provide more security and piece of mind, they can also take considerably longer to run (especially so when wiping large capacity drives). With this in mind it is always worth considering the “all zeros” method if securely wiping a drive quickly is an issue!
Considerations when Wiping SSD Drives
Whilst many devices will still make use of traditional (mechanical) hard drives in some capacity, many newer computing devices will now come with SSD drives exclusively installed and with this a new set of considerations when it comes to securely wiping data from them.
In-fact, in many cases, securely wiping SSD drives is much faster and easier than it is with mechanical drives and, with help from the correct software, the wiping process can be even more secure thanks to the data been sorted digitally within an SSD drive versus being stored physically on a disk platter. With this in mind, SSD drives could prove a more suitable choice when regularly working with sensitive data, not only do they often outperform mechanical drives on many performance metrics but can be more easily secured towards the end of their useful life!
When looking for the most suitable software for securely wiping SSD drives, the best place to start is often the SSD drive manufacturer themselves! Many SSD drive manufacturers support their products with accompanying utility software which will, amongst many other things, often include the functionality required to securely delete all data from the drive to the point where it is virtually impossible to recover afterwards.
NB – Whilst the manufacturer approved utility software is almost certainly a good (and usually free to use) way of securely deleting data from an SSD drive, later on in this review I will be covering some other specialist software titles which also support securely wiping SSD drives.
How to Securely Wipe a Drive (Step-by-Step Example)
In this section I am going to walk through, step-by-step, how to securely wipe a hard drive using one of my favourite secure disk wiping utilities, in this case it is ASCOMP Secure Eraser!
NB – It is also worth noting that, like a few of the other disk wiping titles featured on the list below, ASCOMP Secure Eraser is 100% free for personal usage. If you do plan on using this software in a commercial context then a very reasonable business licence also exists (this is priced at a one-off cost $29.90 for use on 2x PCs).
I am going to skip the installation process here (as this is fairly straightforward anyway) and move straight to the step-by-step process which is outlined below:
Step 1: We must start by choosing the “Drive/partition deletion” option from the Secure Erase main application homepage as is pointed out below:
As can be seen above, Secure Erase features several security related tools which cover many different secure deletion scenarios, in this case however, we will only be focusing on the wiping of an entire disk.
Step 2: Select the disk (or partition) to be securely deleted form the list of available drives and partitions as can be seen in the next window (which is shown below):
NB – BE VERY CAREFUL HERE – Be sure you are selecting the correct disk or partition on this screen as the secure deletion process is not reversible and you could loose important data if you select the wrong disk or partition in this case!
Step 3: with the correct drive (or partition) selected, we can now specify any advanced options for the secure wiping process. I am using ASCOMP Secure Erase in this example, but these advanced options will most likely be similar across many of the secure disk wiping software titles you might encounter.
In my example, as can be seen above, I am going to make use of the very secure DoD 5220.22-M ECE wiping method (although you could chose a faster, slightly less secure method if time is an important factor).
Finally, select any other advanced options, including in the case of ASCOMP Secure Erase the ability to clear the MFT (master file table), clearing of the NTFS change journal and specifying if the PC should be shut down or rebooted after the work is completed or not.
Step 4: With all necessary settings now configured, we can press the “Start deletion” button and begin the drive wiping process! The Secure Erase software will warn us one final time about the seriousness of securely wiping a drive so be sure to double check what you are doing before moving on past this point!
Step 5: Once we have confirmed we want to precede, the software will set about securely deleting all information on the selected drive or partition, a progress bar will be shown towards the bottom of the window and a progress report will be shown afterwards confirming that the wipe has completed successfully (or if not, then why).
And with that we have completed the secure wiping of a hard drive! As can be seen above, this process (thanks to some well designed software such as ASCOMP Secure Erase) is relatively easy to complete and that the most important thing here is to be extra careful to ensure no important data will be lost during the process!
Secure Wiping Applications vs Live CDs
In some cases, especially so when dealing with an un-bootable or otherwise damaged operating system, it might be necessary to boot first into a live CD and run disk wiping software directly from this live environment.
NB – In some circumstances it might be not possible or considered very risky (e.g. with drives potentially containing malware) to insert a hard drive from a un-bootable system into a working system for the purposes of securely wiping it with software which runs within Windows. In cases such as these it could be a good idea to consider a live CD based tool which contains disk wiping functionality.
Whilst most disk wiping software works form within Windows itself, there are a few software developers who offer a live CD version of their offering (in this case I am going to be looking at AOMEI Partition Assistant which is a very powerful suite of disk and partition management tools both with both a Windows app and a bootable live CD version available).
In order to create this live CD version of Partition Assistant (as can be seen above) we must first download and install the Windows ADK set-up software (the software will guide you thorough this if you don’t already have this installed). Once the Windows ADK is installed, we can then use Partition Assistant to write the live version of itself to a USB flash drive, directly onto a CD or DVD or to an “.ISO” file for safe keeping until it might be required.
Once written to one of these available mediums, the system in question can be booted to this live environment which will have a version of AOMEI Partition Assistant installed and ready to securely wipe any attached disks (as well as making available many of the other partition and disk management tools it has become well known for).
Best Software for Securely Wiping Hard Drives
So far in this guide we have discussed some important considerations to take into account when securely wiping a hard disk or SSD drive, this section is where we will cover some of our favourite software tools which can be used for undertaking this wiping process. Remember, whilst all software titles listed below will help in securely wiping a hard drive, any ratings or rankings provided by us are intended only as a guide and that the software with the highest rating might not always be the best choice for you own individual circumstances.
1. ASCOMP Secure Eraser
Secure Eraser is a comprehensive security application from software experts ASCOMP, it is a tool which is focused on providing secure and unrecoverable deletion of individual files and folders alongside any disks or individual partitions which might be installed within the Windows system it is being used upon.
Whilst ASCOMP have included several useful tools within this application, allowing everything form general system cleaning, registry cleaning, secure deletion of individual files and folders or even just overwriting the free space exiting upon an existing disk, the key tool which makes them a favourite choice within this guide is the excellent secure drive wiping tool (which can be seen below).
Not only does Secure Eraser make performing a secure wipe of an entire hard disk (or partition) very easy, but we are given several secure deletion algorithms to choose from including a lower security (but faster) random overwrite option through to some very secure options including the DoD 5220.22-M ECE standard amongst others.
ASCOMP Secure Erase is 100% free for personal use! A business version exists for commercial users and is priced at a one-off $29.90 for a single user (covering up to 2x PCs). More information is available on both options via the official ASCOMP website.
2. EaseUS BitWiper
EaseUS BitWiper is a specialist data wiping tool from software experts EaseUS, not only does it feature tools for securely wiping entire hard disks but also options for securely wiping individual partitions as well as shredding (securely deleting) individual files and folders as well.
As is the case with all EaseUS software, BitWiper is very quick and easy to get installed and start working with, simply selecting the “Wipe Disk” option form the app home page, selecting the drive (or partition) to be wiped and then finally selecting the wiping algorithm to be used is all that is required to securely destroy all data on a disk. Wiping algorithms available include those tuned for fast operation (such as the single pass of zeros method) through to highly secure (but slower) methods including DoD 5220.22-M and the DoD 5220.22M(ECE) methods amongst others.
Whilst the full version of BitWiper is a premium tool, a free version also exists which still provides plenty of valuable disk wiping functionality, albeit without access to some of the more secure wiping methods which are only enabled in the premium version.
EaseUS BitWiper is priced from $39.95 / year or via a lifetime licence (with free lifetime upgrades) for just $59.95! More information can be found via the official EaseUS website.
3. O&O SafeErase 17
O&O SafeErase 17 is a specialist piece of software which is designed with securely deleting PC data in mind. Not only can this software securely delete entire disks and partitions, but it can also safely destroy individual files, folders and even web browsing data amongst other functions available within the application itself.
As can be seen above, SafeErase is a well designed and easy to navigate piece of software and makes any of the core data erasing functions both quick and simple to access and use. Not only is the software easy to use but also features support for both mechanical drives and, via the integrated SolidErase technology, is also specially designed to allow for securely deleting data from SSD drives drives as well.
O&O SafeErase 17 is priced at $19.95 / year for a single PC, $29.95 for a 5x PC licence or as a part of the O&O PowerPack (which contains several O&O bestselling software titles) and is priced at a one-off $59.95 for a perpetual licence. More information on SafeErase can be found via the official O&O Software website.
4. Iolo System Mechanic
As a well known and highly rated PC cleaning and maintenance application, System Mechanic form Iolo is an ideal tool for helping to keep a PC clean, optimised and running at its best. Among the many useful cleaning and optimisation tools found within the package is the DriveScrubber tool, a tool dedicated to the secure wiping and destruction of any data across an entire hard drive!
As can be seen above, the DriveScrubber tool has been specially designed to make the process of securely wiping one or more hard drives a simple and stress free process. In addition to this, not only does DriveScrubber work to strict US Department of Defence standards when performing disk wiping operations, but also has support for securely wiping various other popular media types including USB flash drives and SSD drives amongst others.
DriveScrubber is available both as a stand alone application priced at $29.95 as well as a part of the Iolo System Mechanic suite which comes in three versions (all of which containing the DriveScrubber tool) with prices beginning at $49.95 / year for the base version. More information on these options can be found via the official Iolo System Mechanic website.
5. Acronis DriveCleanser (Cyber Protect Home Office)
Whilst Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office is much better known as a backup and malware protection tool, this popular software suite also includes several disk management utilities including the Acronis DriveCleanser secure drive wiping tool amongst several others.
Available as a part of the Acronis True Image suite (now Cyber Protect Home Office) for several years and at no additional cost, Acronis DriveCleanse delvers a very secure and easy to use drive wiping tool which brings with it the usual high standards expected form a market leading data company such as Acronis.
Not only is DriveCleanse included at no additional cost within the True Image (or Cyber Protect) suite, but by offering access to multiple drive wiping algorithms (including the very secure DoD 5220.22-M method) it is one of the most versatile and secure disk wiping utilities available as of today!
Acronis DriveCleanse is available as an integral part of the Cyber Protect Home Office backup solution (along with several other useful utilities such as a very useful disk cloning tool) and is priced from $49.99 for the essentials version. Click here to visit the official Acronis website for more information.
6. MiniTool Partition Wizard
MiniTool Partition Wizard has for a long time being one of our favourite disk partition management tools, not only is it very easy to use and full of numerous useful features, but both the free to use and professional versions feature a great set of genuinely useful tools.
With some of the many disk utilities put aside (including the ability to recover, align and copy disk partitions), one of the most important features with regards to this guide is the specialist disk wiping tool which is built into Partition Assistant. Available in both the free and professional versions of the suite, this disk wiping tool allows for specific partitions (or an entire disk) to be securely wiped with algorithms ranging from a single pass of zeros up to and including the very secure DoD 5220.22-M standard.
MiniTool is available in both free and premium versions, the Professional version is priced at a one-off cost of $59 and includes free lifetime upgrades. More information on both version is available via the official MiniTool website.
7. AOMEI Partition Assistant
AOMEI Partition Assistant is a leading disk partitioning and management suite which contains, amongst many other useful disk utilities, a specialist secure disk and partition wiping tool.
Available in both a free to use (Standard) version as well as the more powerful Professional edition, Partition Assistant provides the ability to easily select and securely wipe an entire disk drive using the “Wipe Hard Drive” tool as is shown in the image above. Whilst this tool is available and functional in both the free and Professional versions of Partition Assistant, the free (Standard) version of the tool is limited to using only the “Fill sectors with Zero” method with the full range of wiping methods (including the very secure DoD 5220.22M) available only in the premium version.
As can be seen above, when making use of the premium version of Partition Assistant we can not only specify one of several additional secure wiping methods available over and above the free version, but also specify the number of passes the tool will perform (the number of times it will perform the overwriting actions) to help make for the most secure wiping available.
AOMEI Partition Assistant is available in both a limited free version (Standard) as well as the Professional version which contains the full range of secure disk wiping options (including the specialist SSD erasing tool) and is priced from just $59.95 for the lifetime version (which comes with free lifetime upgrades). More information on Partition Assistant can be found via the official AOMEI website.
8. Stellar BitRaser
BitRaser, from software experts Stellar, is a fully featured data destruction tool which works across several key areas of a device up to and including the secure wiping of an entire system or individual hard drive. Not only does BitRaser allows secure wiping of hard drives but also the secure cleaning of several other key areas of a PC including web browsing traces, specific files and folders plus system traces (which includes any temporary files which might be residing on a PC).
Making use of up to 24 global standard algorithms for secure wiping (including the very secure DoD 5220.22-M ECE option), digitally signed certificated showing standards compliance whilst wiping and offering an ISO version of the tool for USB or Live CD booting, BitRaser is a serious solution for anyone looking for a professional data destruction tool.
BitRaser is priced at $20 for a single use (1x hard drive) with a 10-pack licence priced at $99 amongst other options. More information on this pricing model can be found at the official BitRaser website.
CCleaner is probably one of the most well known and highly rated system cleaning utilities available as of today, and for very good reason too! Amongst the many useful cleaning and optimisation tools found within this popular PC cleaning suite is a very useful tool for securely wiping any hard drives which might be connected the PC in question.
As can be seen above, with the CCleaner application we can make use of the specialist Drive Wiper tool and select all but the core system disk (upon which windows is installed upon) for securely wiping. This approach does, however, mean a different solution might be needed for wiping your main system drive (if required) as CCleaner currently seems to disable this drive and the tool is not available as a live CD version as of time of writing.
There are two versions of CCleaner available, a free to use version and a Professional version which is sold on a subscription basis. Fortunately, the free to use version of CCleaner does provide the ability to make full use of the drive wiping tool, this means the Professional version should only really be considered if you want to make use of the enhanced features of the software in other areas (including the excellent cleaning automation tools it has on offer).
CCleaner is available in a free to use version as well as a professional version which is priced from a very reasonable $24.95 / year. More information on either version can be found at the official CCleaner website.
DiskGenius is a powerful disk partitioning solution which also features many useful disk management and cloning utilities as a part of the suite, this includes specialist tools for securely erasing a hard disk in its entirety.
Available in both a free to use and two different premium versions (Standard and Professional), DiskGenius provides a lot of options for all levels of PC user. In-fact, with the exception of the secure file deleting tool (for deleting individual files) which is found in the Standard version and upwards, the free version of DiskGenius can be used for easily and securely wiping an entire drive or partition for free!
DiskGenius is available in a free to use version (which allows for secure disk wiping) alongside 2 premium versions which include additional features and lifetime free upgrades and are priced at $69.90 and $99.90 respectively. More information on any of these editions can be found at the official DiskGenius website.
Disk Wiping FAQs
No, while in reality the process of reformatting an SSD drive will make recovery of any previously stored data very difficult, the exact procedure used will differ between SSD drive manufacturers and any residing data could be vulnerable if the only step you take to securing you SSD drive is reformatting.
When wanting to securely wipe an SSD drive it is strongly advisable to make use of specialist disk wiping software which has support for SSD drives or, alternatively, check with the manufacturer of your SSD drive for their own utility software which will often include a secure wipe function.
No, the secure wiping process employed by virtually all drive wiping software will not be negatively affected due to an encrypted drive.
No, simply performing a factory reset (or reinstalling your operating system manually for that mater) will not securely wipe any data previously stored on the device! The most effective method for securing a device involves using a professional drive wiping tool which will overwrite the data on the disk to ensure it is safely removed and cant easily be recovered.
Yes, wiping all hard drives attached to a PC (and then reinstalling the operating system from scratch) is one of the most effective methods for ensuring a computer virus or malware has been completely removed. This approach does, however, bring a new problem in which you must be sure you do not re-introduce the malware when recovering data back to the device form your chosen backup solution!
No, this is not strictly necessary, the whole point of encrypting a drive is that the data within it remains secure, even if the device itself is ever lost or stolen. Having said this, if you are disposing of a device with an encrypted drive, it is still very much advisable to wipe the drive for additional security of your data and piece of mind.
As this guide has hopefully proven, securely wiping any hard drives, when necessary to do so, is one of the safest and easiest ways of protecting any valuable data, especially so when the device being wiped is to be disposed of, recycled or sold on! I hope it is also clear after reading this guide that, thanks to some of the specialist software titles listed above, the process of securely wiping a drive is often very simple and straightforward (and in some cases the specialist tools are even included in free to use software) meaning there are no excuses for not keeping personal data secure when disposing of unwanted devices!
Most of the titles listed above are not only easy to use, but most or either free to use or offering a free trial, so be sure to try a few out and find one which fits your own data security needs before committing to any purchases!