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Destroying/Erasing Your Hard Drive

[This is part of a special
Disaster Planning section
from the November 2006 issue.]

people have asked me recently about how to eliminate data on their hard drives
before they dispose of a computer. Until recently, there have been no great
solutions for dealing with this. The only true solution was the HDE-1 Hard Drive
Eraser from Magnetech Corporation, which totally and completely destroys the
magnetic encoding on a hard drive including all the factory pre-recorded data,
making the hard drive unusable. Priced at $1,200, this device is designed for
government agencies, security companies, and someone with large numbers of hard
disks to erase. It is cost prohibitive for small businesses with just a few
hard drives. In fact, small businesses and individuals had no real options until
just recently. Several disk-erasing software programs designed specifically
for small businesses and individuals have recently come on the market. Our local
computer store had three available for sale: DriveErase Pro by Nova Development
Corporation; Drive Scrubber by Iolo Technologies; and DriveWasher 2005 by StompSoft.

My office tested these three products on some old computers tagged for disposal,
and all three performed the disk-erasing task as indicated. We did not send
any of the erased hard drives to a drive recovery service to determine if the
data was actually unusable. Each of these programs has you boot the PC from
an enclosed bootable CD-ROM, and all three offered various levels of encoding
from a single write pass across each part of the disk up to the Peter Gutmann
algorithm, which writes a data item to each part of the disk for 35 passes.
Each product supported the various military standards for disk erasing and had
other additional options, which varied by vendor but did not produce any different
results. Each application was very easy to use and provided instructions to
the user through the various steps of the drive erase process. None of the applications
were complex or presented any complex screens to the user, although DriveErase
Pro did have a custom feature that would allow you to build your own erasing
structure from a set of pre-determined options. A high-school intern with just
a few minutes instruction could utilize any of these programs to erase hard

The functionality of the three applications had very little difference; the
biggest difference between the three applications turned out to be the interface.
DriveScrubber2 offered a DOS-like interface that did not allow for the use of
the mouse. While it was easy enough to navigate this interface using only the
arrow keys, for those who might be keyboard arrow challenged this may pose a
problem. DriveWasher 2005 uses a Linux graphical interface. DriveErase Pro uses
the traditional Windows interface. Both DriveWasher 2005 and DriveErase Pro
have mouse support and very nice graphical interfaces. They are well designed,
easy to navigate and simple to use.

The only downside to any of these software products is that the hard drive
must be in working condition and connected to a working computer. If the computer
is destroyed or damaged, the hard drive will need to be connected to a working
computer in order for the software to erase the drive. Even if the drive is
inoperable, it could still contain recoverable data. Many of the data recovery
companies disassemble a drive and work off the individual disk components to
recover data from damaged drives. This same technique could be done by someone
with sufficient know-ledge and the proper tools. If the drive cannot be connected
to a working computer because it is damaged and the information is sensitive
enough, the only option would be a magnetic erasing process using an HDE-1 Hard
Drive Eraser.

Each of the three products we evaluated will do exactly what you want them
to do — they will erase a hard drive. DriveErase Pro provided several
additional utilities including File Shredder and SurfSecret Privacy Protector.
The file shredding utility erases specific files from your hard drive and from
removable media such as Zip disks and USB pen drives. SurfSecret Privacy Protector
helps protect your privacy on the Internet by erasing various temporary Internet
files after you have finished using the Internet.

Here are a few disk-erasing software programs designed specifically for small
businesses and individuals:

• DriveErase Pro by Nova Development Corporation
• Drive Scrubber by Iolo Technologies
• DriveWasher 2005 by StompSoft.

Since the three products we looked at were all priced the same from the store
where we purchased them at $30 each, and since they all perform the drive erasing
tasks properly, we recommend DriveErase Pro because of its additional tools
and because it had a $10 rebate.

If your business suffers a disaster, if you are disposing of old equipment
or if you simply need to erase a hard drive that contains sensitive information
before it is reused in your office, any of these software products will work.
Regardless of the solution used, erasing a hard drive with confidential data
is something everyone should do to protect their business. Whether a magnet
or a software solution is used will depend on the situation and need. The products
mentioned here will help you quickly and easily erase a disk before it moves
on to its next use or to the recycling center. 


John D. Anderson, CPA.CITP, CIA, MSA is the manager of the Information
Technology Services Group at Weidmayer, Schneider, Raham & Bennett, P.C.
located in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Information Technology Services Group specializes
in assisting small and medium-sized businesses and especially CPA firms with
their technology needs. John can be reached at 734.662.2522 or by email at