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  1. #1
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    Rethinking the process of hard-drive sanitizing




    TOP STORY

    Rethinking the process of hard-drive sanitizing


    By Fred Langa

    Standard drive- and file-wiping tools are no longer adequate for completely removing data especially when used with the newest hard drives.

    But researchers have identified new procedures that reliably make old data virtually unrecoverable on any drive, whether magnetic or solid-state.

    The full text of this column is posted at windowssecrets.com/top-story/rethinking-the-process-of-hard-drive-sanitizing/ (paid content, opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.

  2. #2
    5 Star Lounger ibe98765's Avatar
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    This article was not clear.

    It seems that you are recommending to encrypt anything sensitive on the drive as general policy (or even the whole drive) and then when you get rid of the drive, use a standard erase application on top of the encrypted data.

    So even if the erase program doesn't do a great job, any file remnants that could be recovered would still be encrypted and therefore ultimately unreadable?

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    Arrow Disk encryption kills MS backup

    I have recently used TrueCrypt to encrypt my data and backup drives. I have chosen the whole disk encryption method. I feel safe with all of this information encrypted, but the price I have to pay is that standard Windows backup no longer works. The encrypted drives no longer show up as either source or destination locations for Windows backup. I have had to resort to other tools to backup like Macrium Reflect and SyncToy to make sure I have copies of my files.

    I would be interested on your thoughts of strategies to backup encrypted drives.

    If you use whole disk encryption on a drive from the beginning then there's almost no need to erase the data. It should be inaccessible to a 3rd party.

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    On most occasions when disposing of drives, it is because the drive is broken. I usually drill two or three holes through the drive before taking for recycling. That way at least some of the data is definitely destroyed.

    Does anyone have a better suggestion for destroying data on a dead drive?

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    Sure method of wiping old hard drives, even SSD drives.

    I always use the best tool available to clean my old HDD's. It's called Crow Bar. Once I have finished with the drives, no one will ever see the data on it again.

  6. #6
    Ken Kashmarek
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    Before disposing of a computer, REMOVE the disk drive(s).

    If the drive(s) have no further use, mount them in the vise on your workbench, drill 3 or 4 holes through the platter area.

    Take the drive(s) and smack them down on your garage floor to crack the platter(s).

    Then, pass along to a recycling center.

    What's so tough about that? All that encryption, erasing, and expense can be eliminated.

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    it's not all that hard, really, even on an SSD (of which I have two) - just use TruCrypt (which is free) and perform a Whole Disk Encryption (WDE) then forget about it. So long as you have a very strong passkey and so long as you shut down or hibernate the PC (not sleep) your data will be safe even if you dispose of the PC (so long as you don't decrypt the drive first) or the drive is stolen. If the buyer does wanna reuse the HD, they (or you for them) can delete all the partitions, do a low level reformat and fix the MBR. In this case, the "blank" data is still garbled/encrypted and now unrecoverable though, even if they do try to recover it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bill View Post
    I have recently used TrueCrypt to encrypt my data and backup drives. I have chosen the whole disk encryption method. I feel safe with all of this information encrypted, but the price I have to pay is that standard Windows backup no longer works. The encrypted drives no longer show up as either source or destination locations for Windows backup. I have had to resort to other tools to backup like Macrium Reflect and SyncToy to make sure I have copies of my files.

    I would be interested on your thoughts of strategies to backup encrypted drives.

    If you use whole disk encryption on a drive from the beginning then there's almost no need to erase the data. It should be inaccessible to a 3rd party.
    My SSD drives and hybrid are WDE encrypted. I found that if I tried to use Acronis True Image Home (ATIH) 2012 to clone the drive, it totally screwed the system and it became unbootable. Boy was that fun, rebuilding my PC from scratch! Anyway, the workaround is I now use ATIH to do a continuous non-stop backup of just my data to an encrypted USB3 64 GB Sony memory stick. This is convenient and fast enough. (one gotcha though, the USB drive had to be reformatted to NTFS (was exFAT) for this to work). So I don't spend a lot of time installing and reconfiguring my drive in the event of a failure, I first installed the operating system and all my applications to the PC then created a clone copy of that before anything confidential went on to it or encrypting it. So if I have a system crash now, I can just re-clone the non-confidential backup system drive, swap it to the PC, WDE encrypt that, and restore my encrypted data to that (maybe after applying the update patches to the system too). It's still better than starting from scratch.
    HTH somebody

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    Quote Originally Posted by TerFar View Post
    On most occasions when disposing of drives, it is because the drive is broken. I usually drill two or three holes through the drive before taking for recycling. That way at least some of the data is definitely destroyed.

    Does anyone have a better suggestion for destroying data on a dead drive?
    Drilling through an SSD won't guarantee you hit all the chips. Even on a spinning platter drive, a lot of the data is still "readable", but I doubt the platter would actually spin far without ripping the guts out of the r/w heads.

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    I realize that some businesses may need to do what is described, but I am nervous about encrypting files for long-term recovery. It is one more thing to break and be incompatible moving forward. I still have files from my HP75C (1983) that are readable (as text) on Windows 7--and I did refer to one recently, though it did not have the specific piece of information I was looking for, but it might have.

    I find that I have several classes of drives that need to be retired:
    (a) drives with unacceptably high reallocated sectors that are under warranty
    (b) drives which are plain dead that are under warranty
    (c) dead drives out of warranty
    (d) drives that are still good in old computers that I no longer want

    With (a) and (b) I generally send them back to the manufacturer who is pretty clear that they fully erase the drives if they rebuild them. However, the bulk of the drives that end up filling this category are part of RAID-5 striped sets, so the complete data is unlikely to be easily recoverable.

    With (c), I use the drill and smash method. Apparently, even fingerprints on the HDD platter can cause the drive to be unreadable (according to DriveSavers when someone else had bungled the recovery of a failed HDD with data an organization I work with REALLY wanted.

    With (d), I find that by the time I wish to fully retire a computer, it's configuration has slowed down to the point of making me really want to retire it. Often, by this point (at least in the past) the HDD has been quite small by today's standard, so my procedure here is to rebuild the system to the level necessary to get the machine running or provide it without a HDD. I was amazed at how well one of the old machines performed with a fresh install. The original drive is drilled and smashed.

    I had wanted to upgrade my first pair of Infrant ReadyNAS units (a pair is because one member of the pair lives in my home and the other lives in my neighbour's home, providing some geographic diversity for my data as well as not relying on a single RAID5 to preserve the data) which had 4x 500 GB drives. Instead of re-driving them and trashing 8 (or even having 8 as backup) server-class 500 GB drives, I put them on the shelf and bought new Netgear ReadyNAS units (same unit, company bought out) with 1.5 TB drives. The two with 500 GB drives have been brought back, one for my computer image backups (I don't need an off-site spare of this because if the house burns down I'll get new computers and bring them up from scratch) to protect against local HDD failure, the other is the backup server in my older son's dorm room at university. Since he is studying music and has some interest in both listening and making it, he generates far bigger files than my younger son. The older son also had a netbook/laptop crossover and then a much more powerful laptop and keeping parts of those sync'd is much easier via the server than machine-to-machine--as it allows me to use all the same tools (ViceVersa Pro) to do file-level syncing (without propagating deletes).

    Thanks, Fred, for the great information...I am not criticizing what you wrote, just offering my perspective on what has worked for me and if it ain't broke, I don't want to fix it. As far as SSDs are concerned, I only have thumb drives and most of the times those get disposed of because they fail, but they usually only have inconsequential data on them. I do use them sometimes for work product delivery to clients, but no state secrets are involved.

    Cheers,

    Richard
    Aurora, Ontario, Canada

  11. #11
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    I use a drill, remove the magnets, and hammer the platters. The magnets are very useful.

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    I have an electrically powered, high power, electro-magnet, that I used to erase VHS tapes before re-recording on them. Would this work to totally scramble all the data,etc. on my hard drive platters before disposal??

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    Why not just encrypt the entire disk with a huge key and give it away in that state (without the key)?

    Also, from back in the VCR days, I have a powerful bulk eraser that will erase an entire cassette. Is that strong enough to wipe hard disk platters, requiring a low level format to make the drive usable again?

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    What about the original, unencrypted files? How do you get rid of them?

    Encrypting files into a .zip or .rar or onto a Truecrypt "partition," is great, but what about the original, unencrypted files? Don't you still have to deal with them? Of course, you'd use a file-wiping utility to get rid of them, but the whole point of the article seems to be that file-wiping is not reliable enough. Am I missing something?

    By the way, a point I've never seen discussed--I assume that it's not safe to MOVE files onto encrypted partitions, that you have to COPY them, then wipe the originals. Moving leaves something behind, right?

    I destroy old drives by taking them out, scratching the surfaces as much as I can with a screwdriver, then doing a little pounding and bending with a hammer.

    One hundred percent security so that even highly specialized, CIA-type tools can't find any remnants of data? I think most of us can rest easy with a good deal less than that level of security.

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    Rethinking the process of hard-drive sanitizing

    You said that overwriting may not wipe out the old info as the rewriting is to another place.

    Wouldn't encrypting do the same, leaving the old unencrypted info untouched and just placing the encrypted info in a new place.

    The old data then is still available to 'find'.

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