Recently, Agnes Brach wrote to me with a question that, eventually, applies to all of us:
I enjoy your newsletter very much. I have a question that has been on my mind for a while. I have an old computer which i would like to recycle, but have absolutely no idea how to wipe the machine clean.
Could you please give me some ideas of what i can do. Have to tell you that I can work the computer pretty well, but do not have a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the machine.
If you’re going to donate or sell your old computer, or even throw it away, you have a basic decision to make — how bad do you want to wipe out your personal history and data on the drive?
None of the disk wiping systems are convenient, easy nor fast. In order to wipe the disk, they have to overwrite every spot on the disk multiple times with different characters.
The program that I’ve used for years is called WipeDrive. It’s still around and is a DOS floppy-based system. That was fine for the smaller (20-40 GB drives) ATA drives (now called Parallel ATA, or PATA), but still took a long time. Unfortunately, the WipeDdrive program I used works with IDE (PATA) and SCSI drives, but doesn’t handle the SATA drives that are becoming common today’s world. On the other hand, if you’re getting rid of an old computer, it’s unlikely that it has a SATA drive. WipeDrive is a commercial product.
Another solution, which I have not tried yet, has been around for a long time. It’s free and it’s called Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN).
From the DBAN web site:
Darik’s Boot and Nuke (“DBAN”) is a self-contained boot floppy that securely wipes the hard disks of most computers. DBAN will automatically and completely delete the contents of any hard disk that it can detect, which makes it an appropriate utility for bulk or emergency data destruction.
DBAN is a means of ensuring due diligence in computer recycling, a way of preventing identity theft if you want to sell a computer, and a good way to totally clean a Microsoft Windows installation of viruses and spyware. DBAN prevents or thoroughly hinders all known techniques of hard disk forensic analysis.
You can download DBAN from Sourceforge.net, which is home to many free open-source projects. You can find DBAN at http://dban.sourceforge.net/. The DBAN site also has links to a number of similar products, including WipeDrive.
Warning: If you intend to sell/donate/give the system complete with a working copy of Windows, be sure you have Recovery CD’s or Windows Operating System CD’s so that you can reinstall Windows. Disk-wiping programs may wipe out any recovery partition along with the rest of the drive!
According to DBAN’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), DBAN does not wipe the Host Protected Area, which some vendors use to provde the rescue media (rescue partition).
Still, I’d hesitate to use a disk-wiping program unless (1) I had the Windows OS or Recovery CDs/DVDs or (2) disposing of the computer without an operating system on it was an acceptable choice to me.