Storage forum

General discussion

Best method to clean out hard drives of data/viruses for reuse?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / November 9, 2012 8:10 AM PST
What's the best method to clean out my old hard drives of data and viruses for reuse?

I have some older internal hard drives that I'd like to convert into external drives so I can use them for backups on my new machine. Now some of these drives have viruses and malware on them and I'd like to completely wipe them free of them so they will not come back to bite me. Should I use an antivirus like Avast to quarantine the viruses and malware first, and then use CC Cleaner to do a single-pass setting and reformat the drive? Would that be efficient enough? Or is there a better method to reformat these drives to ensure they are clean and ready for reuse? Bottom line: what would you do? Thanks in advance for the advice!

-- Submitted by Graham P.
Post a reply
Discussion is locked
You are posting a reply to: Best method to clean out hard drives of data/viruses for reuse?
The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Please refer to our CNET Forums policies for details. All submitted content is subject to our Terms of Use.
Track this discussion and email me when there are updates

If you're asking for technical help, please be sure to include all your system info, including operating system, model number, and any other specifics related to the problem. Also please exercise your best judgment when posting in the forums--revealing personal information such as your e-mail address, telephone number, and address is not recommended.

You are reporting the following post: Best method to clean out hard drives of data/viruses for reuse?
This post has been flagged and will be reviewed by our staff. Thank you for helping us maintain CNET's great community.
Sorry, there was a problem flagging this post. Please try again now or at a later time.
If you believe this post is offensive or violates the CNET Forums' Usage policies, you can report it below (this will not automatically remove the post). Once reported, our moderators will be notified and the post will be reviewed.
Collapse -
reuse old drives
by KLMCats / November 9, 2012 9:48 AM PST

If you have no intention of trying to retrieve data from the older drives, why not simply reformat & the check the disc integrity?

I have never found a virus or malware on a freshly formated drive.

Collapse -
by pjoshua5000 / November 9, 2012 10:10 AM PST
In reply to: reuse old drives

Reformatting is the best thing you can do.

However, while not necessary, you can use disk wiper tools like Eraser or CCleaner. These tools will rewrite every sector of data with new data. Any virus hiding will be overwritten, but like I said, reformatting should be enough.

But on the plus side, doing a full disk rewrite will make it very difficult for any one to recover any data that is on the hard drive. Even if you reformat the drive data can still be recover. And you can you encrypted backup to make you data safe, in case someone steal your hard drives.

Also don't do a full rewrite on SSD (Solid State drives), it will not work property and you will use up more of the read/write cycles.

Collapse -
Old drive
by foudelazike127 / November 11, 2012 1:05 AM PST
In reply to: reuse old drives

You format those drive and if you want to make shure that evrything is erase you can use file shredder it's a freeware that you can find there This freeware will be helpfull over every drive you have. Instead of using the thrash can you can safely erase what you really don't need. After using file shredder your drive will be clean as a brand new one.

Collapse -
to clean up old drive the fileshredder is a danger
by bullsteak2100 / November 17, 2012 10:00 AM PST
In reply to: Old drive

It is another free download that will not fix or work unless you but the full system, and after you take it off it will take you off. Another one of those,,tricks

Collapse -
Discs are cheap
by webserf / November 16, 2012 8:56 AM PST
In reply to: reuse old drives

I realize this isn't technically an answer to your question, but why mess around when you can spend 50-75 bucks on a decent sized drive that's new and reliable?

Collapse -
cheap discs
by adhd-man / November 16, 2012 11:10 PM PST
In reply to: Discs are cheap

i agree, buy a new hard drive. why backup from a 500 to a 120. the best way to wipe clean is lay it on the driveway and drive over it a number of times.....

Collapse -
Spend 50-75 for new disk
by frclyde / November 17, 2012 5:05 AM PST
In reply to: Discs are cheap

I wish I had check this site before following a suggestion. A mistake. Told to drag Icon of back up
to trash. Now I can get it back.

I was using a LaCie 599,11GB. Now when I drag the HD to Restore from Utilities it moves to Source, but the LaCie will not move to Destination. A new image " Untitled" appears. It will move to Destination.

Restore to Untitled runs about a minute and no longer. It quits.

I am tired of this flustration. Where would I get a drive you referenced? I have a iMac w/ OS 10.6.8
Processor 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and Memory 3GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM

Clyde at

Collapse -
Discs are cheap
by frclyde / November 18, 2012 4:35 AM PST
In reply to: Discs are cheap

I sent Webserf a request on 11-17-12 for clarification. No response to date. Can anyone guide

me to the cheap drives. This will be for backup. My current 500.11 GB LaCie I have lost the icon
by dragging icon to trash.

Any way to restore?

Collapse -
Buying new drives?
by Wim_Damstra / November 18, 2012 7:46 AM PST
In reply to: Discs are cheap

Graham P. didn't ask if he could buy new drives but how to safely reuse his old ones.
Supposing the drives are still in a good shape low formatting should do the job (of course no quick formatting).
As written he wants to reuse the disks for his own purpose so data safety should not be in question.

Collapse -
Best Methodology?
by BubbaKatz / November 9, 2012 9:48 AM PST

If they are already infected, I take them to a separate machine that has an antivirus installed, one that I use just for this purpose, plug them in as external devices and immediately format them at least twice.

Not the quick format option, but the full format.

If there is sensitive data on the drive, then I use a wiping method that does at least 7 passes or the data can be retrieved using various tools.

So to sum up: you can plug them into a different computer that has the antivirus installed, right click on the drive and then hit format or tools/format depending on the OS.

If there is sensitive data on the drive that you don't want retrieved ever, use the CCleaner wipe feature with 7 passes minimum or use Eraser.

Collapse -
Best Method to clean hard drives/drive is now password lock
by neveshalom / November 16, 2012 2:46 PM PST
In reply to: Best Methodology?

I tried what you suggested-reformatting the SATA drive. After wiping, I went to restart and now it is asking for a password!! I DIDN'T password protect this drive, so I don't know what is going on.
1. How can I get past the request for password screen?
2. Do I need another reformat?
3. Is there something else I can do to solve this problem?


Collapse -
No Password Needed
by mielli1 / November 17, 2012 1:12 AM PST

If you are sure you did not protect the drive you can press Enter to get past it. Otherwise, you'll want to download hirems boot recovery onto a flash drive.

Collapse -
Password Needed
by neveshalom / November 18, 2012 1:32 AM PST
In reply to: No Password Needed

What is Hirems boot recovery???

Sorry to be so unlearned in this matter,
Dr. Deborah

Collapse -
Password Needed
by mielli1 / November 19, 2012 12:25 AM PST
In reply to: Password Needed

Hirens is a hard disk diagnostics and recovery utility that allows you to bypass and reset forgotten or unknown passwords to be able to access the disk.

Collapse -
Hirens Dreadful Website
by neveshalom / November 19, 2012 2:17 PM PST
In reply to: Password Needed

This website is DREADFUL. Lots of advertisements. I can't seem to locate a link to either download the software or purchase it!

Thank you for your help,

Collapse -
Was 2 clicks here.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 19, 2012 2:24 PM PST and down the page is ""

Sadly I think some folk new to PCs will struggle to unzip and create the CD from the .ISO. I've lost count of folk that put the .ZIP or .ISO on a CD and then ask why it didn't work.
Collapse -
Password is only requested to activate drive.
by Coldboots / November 17, 2012 1:35 AM PST

If you are using a non admin account on Win7 then to reactivate a volume (drive) you need to login as admin or enter the admin password to register the device on the system if the drive is installed internally. There should not be a password for a non encrypted drive. If you did format the drive and then used file system encryption then you have a problem.

To break the encryption request a linux live CD or USB stick will do the trick. It is also very handy for blanking drives.

If the drive is installed within the computer it will be listed in the partitioning program as sda if it is the primary drive and if it is the second drive it will show up as sdb. Either way you will be able to see where you have your existing windows OS installed usually this will show up as drive sda but not always. Just make certain you do not wipe your existing windows or just unplug the drive that you have it on and be certain you do not format anything other than the drive you want to nuke and/or reformat!

The partitioning program will unmount the drive, which in turn stops the ntfs file encryption request then you simply reformat to ntfs without drive encryption. The encryption request is at the beginning of the drive so you need to blank to unformatted first (remove partition). Make sure that the drive is then seen as nothing but free space. Do not forget that if you use another file system other than ntfs or vfat your drive will not be seen as a file system under Windows.

If you did encrypt the drive then you must be using Vista win7 or XP pro, as drive encryption is not available with the "home" versions.

As to how to wipe a drive with linux it is a breeze with command line. If you open a terminal window with a live cd or usb stick your installed primary drive will show up as sda. The command to wipe the drive by overwriting is (without the quotes) "dd if=/dev/sda of=/dev/urandom" If your live cd or usb stick mounted the drive automatically then you will need to simply unmount the drive and blank the drive without a mounted file system.
In linux (the same as most Unix and BSD systems and windows for that matter) drives are accessible as system devices even if you cannot read the file system on the drive because you have unmounted the file system.

Essentially all dd does with this command is write random numbers to all sectors of the drive including the boot sector so it will be completely blank of data. It can take a long time if your drive is a big one but this is essentially what commercial drive wiping software does.

This causes huge amounts of confusion with users who do not understand the difference between the device and the file system on the device! Think of it simply as a device and you will see what I am getting at, the file system is on the device and needs to be indexed on the running operating system as a file system that can be read.

However if you linux the command umount, then the device can still be written to even though it cannot be read by the higher level of the os that reads file systems. dd is a core program that writes to devices and does not care about file systems. Windows does exactly the same thing but obscures how it actually does things and makes users find freeware to do things that only the "pro" versions do!

Collapse -
sorry miss info about dd command
by Coldboots / November 17, 2012 2:25 AM PST

Without quotes the command to blank a drive is "dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sda"

If the drive you want to blank is sdb then substitute sdb for sda. In the original post I reversed the syntax by mistake.

if (means the file or device you are writing from) "if" just stands for input file

of (means the device or file that you are writing the input to)

dead simple and really reliable like most great stuff.

I always use dd before I sell an old computer with a drive and no OS installed. Silly as it sounds an old scsi drive that I once purchased at a used computer store actually had all of a dentists patient files on it unencrypted. Fortunately I am not the type that snoops, but the so called Windows IT guy that sold off the computer parts should have known better!

Collapse -
What's the best method to clean out my old hard drives?
by dmoloney / November 9, 2012 10:09 AM PST

Format the drive using the Full method. Then open a command prompt and run "cipher /w x:\ " (Without the quotes, where X: is the drive letter of the drive in question. This works for Windows OS'es from Windows 2000 onward. For Vista, Windows 7 (and I assume, Windows Cool you will probably have to run CMD as an administrator.
This method uses tools (format and cipher) available within the OS; no need to download anything!

Collapse -
cipher requires the pro series of windows oses.
by Coldboots / November 17, 2012 1:15 PM PST

Unfortunately to use cipher you need to have encryption installed on Windows which means the pro series only. For those who do not have it the best answer is to unplug the drive that they do not want to format or blank, as it is really easy to nuke the wrong drive. I have pulled this DOH! Homer Simpson trick in the past years ago and nuked my OS by mistake...but that was with Windows 95 so it really wasn't a loss Laugh

If they are formatting the drive that they have their os installed on then they will not be using windows unless they have a copy of windows. Unfortunately most people who buy computers nowadays do not even get a real copy of windows with their pc! So using freeware or drive manufactures isos is the easiest way to learn how to deal with drives correctly.

One other suggestion for those who have windows without Nero or whatever and might have a hard time correctly burning downloaded ISOs of Linux or the drive manufactures ISOs of freedos with their drive utilities.

My answer is to always use iso recorder which is a great freeware utility that does not create cd or dvd coasters the way that windows 7 does with iso files. It works on XP, Vista and 7. It gives you a right click menu to burn iso directly to disk and does not screw up if something else requests hdd disk write access the way the native windows 7 iso burning software does. Before Windows 7 the ability to burn ISO to disk required add on software, after Windows 7 the feature was added but somehow it always seems to screw up Linux ISOs for some strange unknown reason.. Devil

Collapse -
Safest and easiest method if you don't care about the data
by demize95 / November 9, 2012 10:09 AM PST


Burn the ISO to a DVD, put the hard drives in a computer with no other hard drives connected, boot DBAN up, choose a wiping algorithm (DoD Short would be fine), and then let it wipe. It'll have all the data wiped and safe for you to format (quick format) in Windows and be clear of viruses.

Collapse -
by wgself / November 9, 2012 12:12 PM PST

I've used Dban on dozens of drives both IDE and SATA over the last couple of years. I have never had a problem. I keep an old PC set up at work to boot from the cd, then I can just plug a drive in, power up and type autonuke at the prompt to wipe the drive.

Collapse -
Nothing will be spared
by anthony f wood / November 10, 2012 5:25 AM PST

as far as data is concerned, including the toughest virus' and malware by using Ddban.
You have multiple methods of erasing right up to military secrecy strength of erasure which will allow for any level of paranoia (like mine).
Virus like Conficker (Downadup) were able to reactivate after quick format, although full format got the job done, but there is nothing like not having that nagging doubt.

Collapse -
RE: Best method to clean out hard drives of data/viruses
by seth1066 / November 9, 2012 10:37 AM PST

Use the disk manufacturers software or Acronis to set up the drives as new ones. Then do a full reformat.

Collapse -
Reuse by you or by someone else.
by gaddy1983 / November 9, 2012 12:16 PM PST

Viruses and spyware generally reside as programs files and the data are usually fine. therefore as long as no programs can run from that drive you will be able to work on in internally.

Quick format on your own computer will work as long as the infected drive is a secondary drive and you will be the one using it again. This will just 'delete' files which will only change the first bit of the name and make to rest of the sectors available to be written over. This quick and dirty method will be fine as long as you just start using the disk it will be fine overwriting all files over time. The upside is convenience. The other side (I don't say downside because it may not be) is that the files COULD be recovered as long those particular locations have not been overwritten.

The next level is a full format which is really not different form quick format except it also reads sector by soector and locates bad sectors, separating them out.

Wiping - as offered with CCleaner or other programs mentioned. That will will overwrite the sector making recovery almost impossible. The more times it is over written the more secure the disk.

Collapse -
Reformatting Should Do - But There's More to Consider
by ajtrek / November 9, 2012 12:22 PM PST

Hi Graham

Good to know that you intend to re-cycle your old HD's. Smart move and you save money. I'd agree with the other community members that reformatting the drives is all that you need do. Just make sure to use the Full format option and not the Quick format.

After formatting you can still run a virus/malware removal program. Although I'd be surprised if the program detects anything. But you never know and you can never be too safe when dealing in the cyber-world of computers. So do what makes you feel the safest.

There's one other option and that's to take the drives to a professional and let them sanitize the drive(s). Of course you'll pay a price for that type of service.

Graham, you said these are old "internal" HD's. That means either:

(a) you've already removed them - or -
(b) they are still inside another computer yet to be removed

If (b) then hopefully the computer is still operable so that you can perform the reformat operation, if not you'll have to remove the drive. After removing the drive you still have to make it recognizable as a HD to another computer that is capable of running the reformat option (not to mention recognizable to be used as a storage device).

Not to can purchase a USB enclosure that will make the drive recognizable to any computer and format-able to any OS. Just purchase the right size enclosure for the drive. As a rule most Laptop HD's are 2.5 inch and Case HD's are 3.5 inch. 2.5 inch drives in a case are rare but not unheard of.

The next step in buying the proper enclosure is to determine if the HD you are wanting to convert to external storage is IDE or SATA. If it is the former be sure to purchase an enclosure that is IDE to USB as there is a necessary circuitry conversion to make the IDE-HD recognizable to the modern computer which are commonly built with SATA controllers. Firewire connection is available on some enclosures.

Once you have the HD snugly in its new enclose plug it in to any USB equipped computer and run the Full format option. Windows will format the drive to NTFS standards. Apple products will format the drive to HFS+. If you would like to use the same drive between a Windows and a Mac OS then format the drive to FAT32.

FYI, some enclosures come with a power supply and others may have two USB connections to draw sufficient power. But in most scenarios a single USB connection is all that is required for the 5400 RPM HD.

HD enclosures can be purchased from just about any well known computer retailer either on-line or brick-n-mortar (including Amazon and eBay). Those made from aluminum or a metal alloy are the best as they dissipate heat more effectively. Prices range from $7.00 to $50.00 although I'd avoid the bargain basement price. You get what you pay for.

I hope this information is helpful. Good luck with your project.

Together Everyone Achieves More

Collapse -
Reformatting Should Do - But There's More to Consider
by silber1 / November 16, 2012 2:46 PM PST

There is an easier way: You can buy an adapterset which connects a bare drive via usb with the pc. The adapter is equipped with a power supply, so you can use all kinds of drives. It is also cheaper than a case.

Collapse -
yes and no
by porsche10x / November 19, 2012 3:46 AM PST

True, but the OP said that he wants to use the drives as external drives. These low-cost adapters are great for quickie maintenance, but I don't think you'd want your bare drives exposed to "the elements" during ongoing use as an external drive. Even if only used occasionally for backup, then storage; a drive dock might be a more convenient choice.

Collapse -
Use Hirens or UBCD

With ether one you can boot into a Linux environment and then safely format or DOD scrub the disks.

Collapse -
Wipe and reformat
by Zouch / November 9, 2012 5:47 PM PST

Hi Graham,
good advice so far. What I would do is download the live CD version of Partition Wizard ISO and burnit to a CD, then boot from the CD. Use Partition- Modify-Hide Partition to hide all the disk(s) you don't want to reformat. This isn't strictly necessary but it will prevent any possibility of infection from the disks you are reclaiming.

Then for each disk you want to reclaim, Use Partition Wizard Partition-Delete and select the "Secure Erase" option. for all partitions on the disk. This will delete the partition(s) and overwrite with binary zeros. Your disk is now clean and empty.

Use Partition Wozard to allocate whatever partition(s) you want to define on the disk, You might even want to rebuild the MBR (master Boot Record) to make sure that is clean too.

When you've done this for all disks, unhide the partitions you originally hid and reboot the machine into Windows. Format (Full Format) all of the new partitions you created above and you are done.

This will take some time but you can guarantee there is no malware on any of the diisks.

Good Lick!

Popular Forums
Computer Help 49,613 discussions
Computer Newbies 10,349 discussions
Laptops 19,436 discussions
Security 30,426 discussions
TVs & Home Theaters 20,308 discussions
Windows 10 360 discussions
Phones 15,802 discussions
Windows 7 7,351 discussions
Networking & Wireless 14,641 discussions


Free trip to the Grand Prix

Don't miss your chance to win a trip to the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monaco for you and a plus-one.