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How to Erase a Hard Drive Completely

Throwing Away a Loaded Hard Drive Could Expose You to Data Theft


Old hard drives amassed in recycling center
Marco Vacca/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

Before you toss out that old computer or copy machine, make sure that you erase the hard drive completely. A trashed computer is a gold mine for identity and data thieves. And many users still do not realize that their office copier stores documents on a hard drive until the files are overwritten. So unless you take the proper steps to ensure that all data has been erased from a computer or copier before it leaves your office, you may be opening the door to a security breach.

When you delete a file on your computer, it doesn't really go away. Your computer simply marks the space that the file occupies as available. Until you actually write a new file over that space, the data is still there.

What kind of information has been mined from discarded drives?

  • Medical Records
  • X-Ray Images
  • Military Data
  • Personal Financial Information
  • Details of Business Negotiations

Erase a Hard Drive Completely: The Techie Way

There are two basic methods of removing data from a hard drive: the techie way, and the low tech way.

The techie way involves using a software program designed to completely erase a drive. Forget any method that involves big magnets. They don't work.

One popular (and free) program is called Darick's Boot and Nuke (DBAN). DBAN creates a bootable drive that automatically reaches out and erases any drive it can access. Give your computer one good dose of DBAN and it's safe to throw away.

Most copy machines have a utility to clean the hard drive. Make sure that you consult the documentation for your copy machine or speak with your dealer and wipe that drive before you let the machine leave your office.

Erase a Hard Drive Completely: The Low Tech Way

To completely erase a hard drive the low tech way, simply take a hammer and smash it to smithereens. No, this doesn't really erase the data, but it does render it unreadable. For a price, the guys at Data Devastation will take your discarded drive out to a range and shoot it.

Use any creative method you want. As long as you destroy the platters inside the drive, you'll be safe. But please, wear safety glasses.


A discarded computer or copy machine is a significant security threat. You have several methods at your disposal to completely erase a hard drive, so use one of them before you discard it.

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