Over three years ago my web developer at Refresh Creations wrote an article which I published dealing with the question of formatting a hard drive so that the contents were completely unrecoverable. Whether you plan to sell your computer on at the end of its life, recycle it, give it to charity or even chuck it at the tip, it is imperative that you dispose of any potentially sensitive data on the hard drive.

I try not to recycle articles however meeting people on a weekly basis who would more than happily sell a computer on eBay after having simply used Windows to delete their old data has convinced me that in this instance it is necessary.

With data security becoming a greater issue on a daily basis it’s important to make sure that you securely remove all your data from your hard drives before you decide to sell your hard drive or donate it towards a charity of your choice. For a great amount of time there have been programs available which can miraculously restore data from a damaged floppy disk, with being the token computer guy in the house at university and still people using this decidedly unreliable format I became familiar with the programs used for restoring corrupted or deleted data from the diskettes.

Technically, just deleting a file isn’t sufficient to get rid of it permanently; when you delete a file from say Windows XP or any other OS you’re not truly deleting the file. To understand this you need to have a rough idea of how file allocation tables work (this is based on the current format of your hard drive). Unfortunately formatting the drive isn’t necessarily sufficient as data can still be relatively easily restored using an unformatting program which are available readily on the Internet.

If you’re intent on selling the drive off to a 3rd party personally I’d recommend the free tool DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) which is used for securely erasing all data from your hard drive, making recovery of previous data from your drive nigh-on-impossible. DBAN performs a military grade format on your hard drive, conforming to American DOD (Department of Defence) standards.

DBAN is more effective than the conventional Windows format as it performs multiple passes over the hard drive, on each pass it will randomly flip each binary bit from a zero to a one or vice versa to completely scramble all the data on the drive. Multiple passes are required so traces of the old data are more difficult to detect. DBAN is a small, free piece of software which can be downloaded from http://dban.sourceforge.net/

Note it’s name “BOOT AND NUKE” – The CD that you create will be bootable when you turn on the computer with CD booting enabled the program will load automatically and if you’re not careful you will lose ALL data on the drive. This includes the OS and anything else on the drive – ALL data means ALL the data.


Ryan Carson, Refresh Creations Ltd


Ryan Carson runs the website design company Refresh Creations