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What Happens During A Hard Drive Wipe

Dec 6, 2007
A hard drive wipe refers to a secure deletion procedure that leaves no traces of the data that used to be stored on the wiped hard drive. This is usually performed using specialized software programs designed for this purpose. It should be noted that a hard drive wipe is different from and much more secure than simply deleting all the files that are on a hard drive.

This is because when a file is deleted, it is not really entirely removed from the hard disk. What actually happens is that the file is simply marked as having been deleted, and the hard disk space that it occupies is marked as being ready for use. So the file is no longer listed in its directories. Also, the space in which a deleted file is contained may in fact be overwritten by new data being put into the hard disk.

For many applications and users, this file deletion may be sufficient. A more thorough deletion would just be a waste of system resources, and thus is usually not implemented. However, there are certain cases in which the more secure deletion that a hard drive wipe affords becomes desirable.

For instance, computers that handle critical information might eventually be reassigned, or replaced. In this case, it might be desirable to ensure that the important information could not be recovered afterwards, in case malicious acts may be done with this data in hand. For instance, financial information such as credit card numbers, account numbers, and balances may be recovered from hard drives that are recycled but not wiped clean.

Similarly, even personal computers might benefit from a hard drive wipe, for instance when they are being resold or given away. The simple precaution of doing a hard drive wipe may prevent or at least lessen the risk of identity theft and the acquisition of any other critical personal information.

One of the easiest ways to perform a hard drive wipe is to acquire a copy of a hard drive wipe program which can automatically run from a CD or other removable storage device. In most cases, the hard drive wipe process then just consists of plugging the storage device containing the appropriate program into the computer to be wiped clean.

A hard drive wipe works by overwriting the existing data with random data, often multiple times. This has the effect of covering the previously existing data and making it almost impossible to recover. The standard number of overwrites ranges from seven all the way up to thirty five layers of overwriting data.

Hard drive wiping also helps by being a more environmentally-friendly alternative to physical destruction of the hard drive. When disposing of a hard drive containing confidential information, the user might want to opt to have the drive physically rendered unusable. However, recycling facilities exist that would repurpose the hard drive. To do this, they are required by law to wipe the hard drives so as to make any previous data unrecoverable.

The hard drive wipe is a useful procedure that is becoming more and more necessary in this information age.
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