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Donating hard drives, how do I get rid of all my personal data?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 31, 2008 6:18 AM PDT

I have several old hard drives that I would like to donate to
a worthy cause, but I am not sure how to get rid of all the
personal information that is stored on them. Any suggestions
as to what I can do? Some hard drives are not in the
computers and a couple of them are. Please provide step-by
step instructions on how I can thoroughly clean these drives
out. Thank you!

--Submitted by Kathy C.

Enough to be safe, not so much as to be paranoid --Submitted by watzman

Getting rid of old drives... --Submitted by Wolfie2k5

Re: Donating Hard Disc Drives. --Submitted by chauffeur2

Use the Drive manufacturer's utilities --Submitted by back_water_tech

If you have any additional recommendations or advice to share with Kathy, let's hear them. Click on the "Reply" link to post. Please be detailed as possible in your answer and list all options available. Thanks!
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Depend's on just how sensitive you consider the data

If you're going to donate the drives, you surely don't want to spend money cleaning them. An easy way that should be 99+% safe would be to look for the manufacturer's diagnostics utility that allows wiping the drive during destructive testing. It will remove data, formatting, partitions etc and leave the drive essentially as it came from the factory. This doesn't mean specialized equipment cannot recover some data from the platters but someone would have to really want your stuff to invest in that type of gear. You could perform the erasure several times just to further reduce the possibility the data could be read. I'd have to think that would be good enough for most purposes and I have to think you're not storing atomic missile secrets or you'd not even consider giving these drives away.

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Disk Wiping Software
by maggiemae99 / October 31, 2008 11:57 AM PDT

If you have a Windows computer, simply download the free version of the Department of Defense standard-conforming disk-erasing software Active KillDisk at http://www.killdisk.com.

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About donating Hard Drives
by GFW / October 31, 2008 12:02 PM PDT

First, if you have any hard drives of less than about 40Gb, you might as well take a hammer to them (a few big dents will render them unreadable) and trash them.

For drives of more than 40Gb, see if there is a group that refurbishes older computers for use in inner city or rural schools. In some places the Telephone Pioneers Chapter may be doing this. They should be able to erase your data and protect your privacy if they have such a program.

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About donating Hard Drives
by ViroCMN / November 2, 2008 9:24 PM PST

Not True!!!
I know of certain business that have hundreds of uses... They don't use more than 5 gigs on their machines and some of those machines have 250gig HDD's but they been partitioned @ 20gig. Its sad I know but company policies....

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Cleansing a hard drive
by golfzilla / October 31, 2008 12:06 PM PDT

Pound it with a sledge hammer and then burn it.

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to golfzilla
by butch1127 / October 31, 2008 1:35 PM PDT
In reply to: Cleansing a hard drive

out of all the replys on cleaning the hard drive, you gave the best and direct answer out of all.i am 66 years old. retired computer tech at 65. you can always tell the think they are the greatest by their long replys & the way they put people down. wished i knew a much as they think they do.this is the reason i normly don't answer any questions. just waunted to say great answer. have a great day

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Ah!!! That's what it means!
by ozdonat31 / October 31, 2008 4:13 PM PDT
In reply to: to golfzilla

I always wondered what "crash and burn" means.

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by dawn-ooo / November 3, 2008 4:34 PM PST

what an idea. keep it up.

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Hard drives
by cao2289 / October 31, 2008 12:06 PM PDT

I have personally used a program called Wipe Drive. You can completely eradicate all data to U.S. Department of Defensse standards for data erasure. Basically what a regular format does is just delete the MBR (Master Boot Record) and the index, leaving all data on the hard drive but the computer doesn't know how to access it ebcause the index and MBR are gone. What this program does is write random characters and zeros and ones across the entire hard drive, 4 times! Depending on the size of your drive it could take a long time to do. For example, I recently had to wipe my drive, a 500GB Seagate and it took a little over 4 hours.

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by ironwoodmi / October 31, 2008 12:12 PM PDT

I would say why suffer with deleting the info and donating the drives.
Technology advances everyday and there is really no need for saving these items as newer will be better. Take a strong magnet and run it over the drives a few times and destroy the info and toss them into your trash can or dump them off at a recycling station.

I know, I know, most people are going to say the opposite and that its a great idea to donate items to causes. But how many times do you stash things away saying your going to donate them and they end up sitting in the bottom of your closet for YEARS!!!! I just hauled FOUR truckloads of JUNK to our waste facility and i was glad to get rid of it. Free of clutter and better off.

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You have been watching too many TV
by Watzman / October 31, 2008 1:04 PM PDT
In reply to: Why.........

You have been watching too many TV shows and Movies.

First, you can't erase the platters of a hard drive from outside the drive using any normally avaialbe source of magnetic fields (if you have acces to an MRI machine, well, then .... maybe). The magnetic field strength required AT THE PLATTER to erase the platters is VERY high, and this strength decreases by the inverse square law. The heads are VERY close to the drive, within 20 one-millionth's of an inch. But by the time you get to even just a half-inch it's just about impossible ANY normally available souce of magnetic fields.

Second, if you could do that, it would not only destroy the data, it would destroy the drive (which you don't care about). The reason is that in addition to erasing the data, if you could "bulk erase" the platters, you would also erase the drive's servo information. The drive can't operate without this, and it can't be recreated in the field, so you have destroyed the drive.

Third, however, I take issue with the callousness of all of the replies (yours included) that basically say to destroy / discard the drive as worthless. The drives do have value, and it's wasteful and environmentally unfriendly to pitch a perfectly good drive when a simple wipe of the drive will resolve all legitimate security issues that a normal person would reasonably have. I teach computing at a local college, and we can always use discarded drives. Even defective drives make good teaching tools when we take the covers off and let students have them as we try to explain concepts like tracks and secotors and cylinders and heads and platters and so on.

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Disposable nation
by patruga / November 14, 2008 11:02 AM PST

I agree with you, some members have truly displayed a cavalier attitude to a growing problem - electronic waste. Somehow we have become a nation where everything is disposable, not reusable. Having taught in a few improvished schools, I KNOW the value of a 20 gig or even 10 gig harddrive. So, If you can "safely" donate your HDD, do so, it will be one less item in the landfill, and who knows, maybe even a grateful recipient.

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Why throw it away when it works just fine.
by wmarr / November 14, 2008 10:47 PM PST
In reply to: Disposable nation

I can understand the reasoning behind disposing of old computer hardware. Not that it didn't work, just that a person can afford to upgrade to hardware that can do more or perform better. Nothing wrong with a 20 gigger drive. I have (and am) used these drives for everything from primary boot to OS, data storage, a second drive, you name it. Even have a 10 gigger all loaded up with XP just in case a clients machine won't work, and all I do is change the jumpers and connect the cables to see if that is all that is wrong with the machine. I personally use Kill disk or Gleary's utilities. You can actually delete (in windows) all the personal stuff then run "wipe free space utility. There all is done but no software or OS has been erased just the free space that was once occupied by your data.
PS. remember to empty your recyle bin and run CC Cleaner before you do this. Also you have to delete your browsing history (online banking etc.) BEFORE you run wipe free space.

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by shyamalchatterji / November 15, 2008 1:23 AM PST

This is a very logical answer.
If the question is regarding a method of erasing the data , the replies are expected to be address the same.

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Donating hard drives
by tronofgrog / November 14, 2008 12:46 PM PST
In reply to: Why.........

Do not depend on a magnet to destroy the data. I have tried placing a strong magnet on a HDD, it stopped the heads from moving while it was attached but had no effect on the data. The platters spun fine and I let it sit there for 5 minutes. I booted from the drive afterwards without any trouble. The data was intact. There are free drive wiping utilities that conform to dept of defense standards.

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Erasing data
by ArtNYC / December 18, 2008 11:32 PM PST
In reply to: Donating hard drives

Will restoring the hard drive produce the same result of erasing all data? I have a working desktop to get rid of and have the disk to restore the pc. If this produces the same result, I do not have to spend $ on software.

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Just Take it Apart ...
by Dumbpeni / December 20, 2008 1:09 AM PST
In reply to: Donating hard drives

Just take the damn thing apart .. You keep the metal disk and recycle the rest... It is pretty to look at and it can be used as your vanity mirror.. it is so shiny !! Use your Philips screwdriver or an impact screwdriver that you can buy for cheap at auto parts shops or discount tool stores ... Use a mallet and bam on the impact screwdriver and it will loosen the screws off the hard drive cases. Voila ! You will see the shiny disk inside... It is a thrill!

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Deleting Info On Your Hard Drive.
by scanner1132 / October 31, 2008 12:13 PM PDT

There ia a Software Program that is called CyberCrub.
It is what the United States Gov't uses.
I do not know if there is a trial version or not.
If you get the program and need help,
post another question / reply here on the Cnet Forum.

Creola, Al

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Deleting Info On Your Hard Drive
by RonB21 / November 14, 2008 9:58 PM PST
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Software for deleting hardrives
by Cristian_Poblete / November 15, 2008 12:13 AM PST

Most of the manufacturers of hard drives offer free software with which you can write zeros on all the surface leaving the disc surface as when de disk was new. In big drives it takes some time to delete all data by writing zeros but then you are unable to retrieve any data from it.

Best luck

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HardDrive Erasure
by dannyjames2 / November 15, 2008 3:24 AM PST

Directed to Thomas, Creola, Al.- Just so you know folks, the actual name for the website Thomas mentioned in his e-mail is "CyberScrub".com. I'm sure it was just a typo. Thanks for the info Tom.

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Secure erase in 1 minute or less, really!
by DGGerman / November 15, 2008 4:41 AM PST

There is a command to securely erase a disk that cannot be stopped,
even by powering off. It is performed by the internal processor within the disk drive and once it begins it it remembers that it started so that if you power off the system and give the drive to someone else, the first thing the disk does when it is powered up is to complete the erase.

The little 835KB zip can be download from:
written to a floppy, CD or thumbdrive.

"Complete eradication of user data off drives can be accomplished by running data Secure Erasure utilities such as the freeware ?HDDerase? downloadable here. It executes the Federally-approved (NIST 800-88) Secure Erase command in the ATA ANSI standard, which is implemented in all recent ATA drives greater than 15-20 GB."

also available on:


Dennis G German, !DG12, Real-World-Systems.com

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by bigfoot890 / November 15, 2008 9:20 AM PST

That's CyberScrub with an S not a C and by the way I use it an it's great.

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Donation of HDs.
by mlfranca / October 31, 2008 12:22 PM PDT

Dear Katthy C.

If you are donating yr. old Hard Disks for a good cause I would like to candidate to receive it if you wish.
I am a computer Technician and teacher here in Brazil for several years. Presently I'm intending to work in a project to mount computers for people who can not buy it. So, cause you decide to help us in this project yr. donation should be very well appreciated.

Best Regards,
Marisil Franca

P.S.: Please reply to my e-Mail address: mlfranca@hotmail.com

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Take a nice gesture one step further
by Finge / October 31, 2008 12:49 PM PDT

Nice post on ?KillDisk?. I use that one myself and that?s the way to go, however, you should also consider the integrity of the drive as well, something ?KillDisk? doesn?t do.

It?s a nice gesture to donate drives to a worthy cause, but it?s even nicer knowing you?re not donating faulty drives.
I know this proposed added step takes more time, but consider it an exercise and keep the software you download for your own use.

Each drive manufacture provides free software to check their drives for many types of errors, and reports if the drive is fit or faulty. Some include fixes, but in most cases, if the drive doesn?t pass it?s fitness test, it should be destroyed. The same software also options the ?writing zeros? feature, clearing the drive of all data. ?KillDisk? is a good tool to clear all the drives, but I?d recommend before you attempt to clear a drive, check it?s integrity with the software provided by that manufacture. If the drive is faulty, don?t waste time trying to clear data. Destroy the drive. You can check for ?Integrity Checking software for each Drive? at this URL. I?ve checked the site?s list and they are up-to-date on the latest as well as the older models. http://www.tacktech.com/display.cfm?ttid=287#maxtor
Good Luck - finge

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Enough to be safe, not so much as to be paranoid
by Watzman / October 31, 2008 12:53 PM PDT

This is a very misunderstood, and very important topic: What can you do to make a used hard drive that had confidential data on it safe enough to give away.

First off: erasing files, reformatting and repartitioning the drive will NOT get rid of your confidential data. They will make it such that the average, garden variety user won't see such data, but it won't truly be gone, and any good techie could recover it. So those steps are not enough.

Now the next questions are: Are you the type of target that would make the CIA, FBI or NSA willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars recovering data from you hard drive? Or, alternatively, are you just paranoid?

There is ***NO*** way short of destroying the drive (think electric drill through the platters, massive sledge hammer, or incinerator) to make your data ABSOLUTELY non-recoverable. So if you are on Osama Bin Ladden's executive staff, or if you are the head of a drug cartel, well, then get out the drill and sledgehammer.

However, if you are a "normal" person, you can make the data on the hard drive non-recoverable very easily by simply "overwriting" the data. For a "normal" person, a simple overwrite, ONCE, with ANYTHING (even all zeros) is enough. What I often do is repartition the drive into one single partition, then fill it (until I get a "disk full" error) with multiple copies of a folder of TV shows or movies. Then, once it's completely full, I just erase everything, giving an apparently blank hard drive. And if someone goes in to "recover" what was there ..... they will recover the TV shows and movies. AND THAT IS ALL THAT THEY WILL RECOVER.

Could the original (pre-overwrite) data be recovered? Yes, but the cost and effort required would be astronomical (think hundreds of thousands of dollars). NO ONE ... not even civil law enforcement ... would do it just as an exercise, or as part of a "fishing expedition", and very few people have anyone who is THAT interested in their data to undertake such an exercise.

Now a few more comments:

Overwriting can be made more secure by doing it several times with certain specific patterns of data each time. There is government specification for doing such a wipe of drives that had classified (but NOT "top secret") information on them, and most "shredder" programs can do a "DOD" (Department of Defense) wipe. Fine, and technically correct, but for a normal person it's totally irrelevant and unnecessary. ONE single actual over-write with ANYTHING (even just all zeroes) is all that a normal person needs to be far safer than is necessary.

Another comment: For about 10 years every drive made has implemented the "secure erase drive" command, but almost no one knew about the existence of this command until about two years ago. It wasn't a secret, but word of it's existence just didn't spread far. This command is basically a "destroy yourself" command issued to the drive (in this case, "destroy yourself" means destroy your data, the drive itself is NOT destroyed or physically harmed in any way). This method, which once initiated occurs entirely WITHIN the drive itself, is both more secure and faster than anything you can do from outside the drive that has approximately equivalent security. For reasons that should be clear, some computers (in their BIOS) actually block this command, and you need a program to properly issue the command. But it's really the best way to go if you have a program that can use it and a comptuer that will allow the command to be issued. The Center for Magnetic Recording Research at UCSD (Univ. of Calif. San Diego) produced and makes available a free program that does this, see http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/SecureErase.shtml, however it's not very user friendly. Many other shareware "drive wiping" programs that previously did the wiping in the conventional manner from the computer now also support using the "secure erase drive" command for this purpose. Note that this command may not be available if you are using a USB or Firewire interface, or in some cases, depending on how it is implemented, even a SATA interface.

Final comment: No matter how you do it, for any kind of wiping to do anything, every single sector on the entire disk drive has to actually be written to. This is going to take time ... and on a large hard drive, where there can be a BILLION sectors or more .... it may take a LOT of time, not minutes but hours, possibly even days depending on the drive size, how you are doing the wipe and the number of passes that you want made (again, for normal people 1 is enough, but if you are paranoid or have reason to use the DOD standards, then you will be making quite a few passes).

The easiest way to deal with a drive that is not in the computer is to use one of these (not necessarily from this source, but a similar device): http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=250308251659. Note, however, that a USB connection probably precludes use of the "secure erase drive" command in most instances.

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Hard Drives
by scanner1132 / October 31, 2008 1:07 PM PDT

I am a Technician and work for a Government agency ?
CyberScrub Does erase everything.
No software made can retrieve information
from your old drive (s). I promise you!
Please go to the above link and read it.
I am in no way affiliated with this company
in any kind of way. I just use their software
on a daily basis.

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so far...
by onezavalar / November 14, 2008 5:09 PM PST

Watzman, man I love this answer everything you wrote does make sense, been paranoic, working for bin lading etc. and about filling the drive with recorded movies or tv shows, well that's exactly what I was thinking about.

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Wiping a hard drive--destroys Windows too?
by Eclipseowner / November 14, 2008 11:33 PM PST

I am thinking of donating a computer. If I do wipe of the hard drive to get rid of my personal data, does it wipe out the Windows OS too--thus requiring a resintall of Windows before the computer can be used?

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by RichardIII / November 15, 2008 4:26 AM PST
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