Requiem for a Disk

--Originally published at TC2027 – Blog will Tear us Apart

How to properly say farewell to your hardware.

Perhaps we might know how to properly use our data storage devices, we know how to keep them safe, encrypt and take care of their physical health. And thanks to that this devices outlive our expectations spans; and we found ourselves with the necessity of improving our setup.

Sure, you might just RAID your PC, but most of the time improving means replacing. Perhaps it’s time to change that old HDD and replace it with a new SSD, or perhaps your USB memory is no longer big enough. And we immediately embark ourselves into deciding, reviewing and Zero-Moment-Of-Truthing the available technology.

Then we procede to install the new, shiny and beautiful hardware into our systems et voilà, we procede to enjoy the pleasures of capitalism; naturally, we fulfill our consumerist  responsibilities by choosing the path of our late hardware.

I know, disposal is not your first option, don’t worry, neither mine. Perhaps use it as cold storage might be useful, or perhaps you can sell it, lend it, give it away, or mod it to work as an external drive.

Independently of how you decide the future of your device, you might want to format it. According to Wikipedia, formatting is:

Disk formatting is the process of preparing a data storage device such as a hard disk drive, solid-state drive, floppy disk or USB flash drive for initial use. In some cases, the formatting operation may also create one or more new file systems.

By creating a new file system it appears as if your data has been wiped out from the drive, you’re good to go and it becomes just one idle piece of metal. That’s what most of the formatting tools do. I don’t want to break

digital heart but it is as far away from being safe as swimming in a piranha pool.

Creating a new file system on the drive only erases the addresses of your data from a physical direction index, and start a new blank one. This makes your data inaccesible to any regular software and operating system. But it can be read by other means and tools made for recovering data.

Your data is still there, the new table only allows the operating system to write over “deleted” data, but your bytes are still physically written on the drive. Sure, after a certain ammount of use, eventually all your data will be replaced by new one; but we know that eventual security is not effective security.

In fact, there are many people buying second-hand hard disks and memories in order to retrieve that unindexed data. Some for fun, others with ill intentions.

How can I properly delete everything?

Actually, it is very easy, pal. Every common OS offers you the option to do a full reformat and write ceroes in every bit inside your drive. Usually it’s tagged as SLOW FORMAT, or textually offers you the option to write ceroes.

Yep, as easy as that. Obviously is gonna take a while, specially if you’re formating a 4TB HDD. Remember it needs to write ceroes in every one of the 32000000000000 bits available on the drive.

So be patient, grab a coffee and stay safe.


Cover image by Christian Cachin, via