There’s a known fact that it is impossible to permanently destroy data just by formatting a hard drive. It doesn't matter if you use Windows formatting or pay for a commercial disk formatting program or use any free alike software. It won’t work.
In its essence formatting a drive is the same as deleting files in Windows and then removing them off Recycle Bin. Just a small bits of information (links to files) are removed but the files still reside on the hard drive and it is very easy to recover them using either commercial solution or one of the free powerful applications for data recovery out there on the net. That's why you may want to use a powerful software specialized in hard drive data wiping, to shred the drive partition beyond any possible recovery, BUT the big question will always be, is that enough?
The answer was always proven as simply NO! Read This article by PC WORLD (Hard Drives Exposed) to see how much data can be recovered from your hard drive!
As a proven method, wiping the hard drive should be your second step, not the first step, so what is the first step?
The first step is the perfect and ultimate GO SAFE & GREEN solution other than physically destroying your hard drive with a sledge hammer and increase the earth pollution, is to ENCRYPT that hard drive before engaging any wipe method, so it is not possible to recover any data after encrypting and then wiping it, and all what will be recovered is an encrypted unreadable nonesence files that is impossible to know what it is and impossible to decipher.
This is what I personally do, before I get rid of an old hard drive by donating it or by passing it to a friend, or selling it on eBay, or even if I want to use the same hard drive again as a clean and empty hard drive with no previous data on it, and today I am going to show you how:
We are going to download my preferred free, and surprisingly so powerful programs that I personally use in my daily routine, to make a demonstration in this tutorial, of course you can use different free or commercial software later for this purpose, but for now we are going to use the following, good luck:
1- Download TrueCrypt (3.3 MB) from HERE, it’s a free powerful open source disk encryption software, execute the (TrueCrypt Setup 7.0a.exe) and choose to extract the program to a folder on your desktop, we will use this method so to use the program as portable, without installation, and for easy access directly to the needed files inside that folder.
2- Download Hard Drive Eraser 2.0 from HERE, it’s a portable one icon program and very light (617 KB), yet very reliable and powerful tool to securely wipe any hard drive with 4 different methods of your choice (write zeros, DOD 5220-22.M-military grade 3-passes, 4 passes US Army method, and Peter Guttman 32 passes), and uses FAT, FAT32, NTFS format methods.
3- I am going to use a 4 GB thumb drive for this demonstration, and I am going to put different types of files on it, and see in the end what will I get back of them after encrypting then destroying them – this is what the data inside the thumb drive looks like now-:
4- Now I will format that drive with NTFS so I can encrypt it with True crypt, after format I open the folder (TrueCrypt) and execute (TrueCrypt Format.exe ) with elevated privileges(Run as administrator) since am working from Windows 7 in this tutorial:
5- The wizard will start and I will choose Encrypt a non-system partition/drive and click on Next:
6- Next screen I choose Standard TrueCrypt Volume:
7- Next screen I browse to the thumb drive and mark the never save history option, then I hit the Next button:
8- Next screen I choose Encrypt Partition in Place and I hit Next button:
9- Next screen I receive a warning, I hit Yes to proceed:
10- Next screen I get the chance to choose the Encryption Algorithm, and the Hash Algorithm, I just keep them on default, they are more than sufficient, and I hit Next button:
11- Next screen I will not choose a password, instead I will be more wicked, and am going to let the program generate a super complicated key for me so nobody ever (rest assured) will know what is the key to decipher any recovered data in this thumb drive, mark the use key files, and hit the Key files button, as you see in picture below:
12- Next screen click on Generate Random Key file:
13- Next screen I hover the mouse over those “MATRIX” numbers for a minute or so before I hit Generate and Save Key file:
14- Next I will have to save the key file on desktop, I will use it next step, and I will name it keys:
15- Key file created successfully, click OK:
16- Next is to add that key file I saved on desktop, and click OK:
17- Now just hit Next:
18- Next screen mark the Display pool content, and hover again over those “MATRIX” moving numbers randomly for another minute or so before you hit next button:
19- Next screen keep the Wipe method to the default (None) because we are not going to wipe the disk now, we do that later, so hit Next:
20- Now click Encrypt button:
21- A warning pop up informing you that during encryption you will not be able to use that drive, click Yes:
22- The encryption will start and will take more than an hour for a 4 GB, almost 10 hours for a 500 GB, but it’s worth the wait:
23- When done you have to click OK & OK for the next 2 warnings, then click on Finish to close and Exit the program:
24- Now the drive is encrypted and cannot be used or opened without using TrueCrypt program and providing the key you encrypted the drive with, but since we do not want to decrypt the drive, but we need to destroy the data inside forever, and make any recoverable data inside that disk unreadable at all, so first thing we need to format the drive again, so right click on that thumb drive and format it with what you prefer, Fat,Fat32,NTFS, it’s your choice, after that, start the Hard Disk Eraser Program, be careful to choose the thumb drive and not any other drive in your pc by mistake, and mark the quick format, and keep the default NTFS, and DOD method of wiping the disk, and click START button:
25- A confirmation window, click on Yes:
26- Another confirmation window ask me to input the word ERASE in capital letters and hit the OK button to proceed:
27- The program will start formatting then wiping the drive, if you see an error message, stop the program and close to exit, then go reformat the thumb drive again:
28- After you formatted the thumb drive again and started the eraser, if you see that the Volume label is BLANK, then you know everything is going fine, and the wiping of the drive is properly functioning:
29- Wiping a 4 GB drive shouldn’t take long, maybe less than an hour or so, or maybe more depending on the health status of that drive, and the speed and power of your PC too:
30- When done you should see Erasing Disk Completed, so you can close the program to exit:
31- Now your thumb drive is completely encrypted and wiped off any usable or readable data, so even if there is a possibility of data recovery, no one ever can decipher that recovered data, I am going to test this by using a really powerful data recovery software that can recover even encrypted data, it’s a $140 single license software from Disk Internals, I will use their latest & ultimate program ( Disk Internals Partition Recovery 3.7 ) and put that thumb drive to a government like test:
32- The result is what you see in picture below, nothing but junk unreadable files, and we are done with this tutorial after we succeeded in our mission:
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