How A Disk Wipe Operation Works

By: Sam Miller

Computers are everywhere nowadays. They are being used more and more extensively to automate tasks and make the collection and storage of data easier. This means that a lot of today's information is encoded in the digital format that computers process and use. Consequently, the issue of digital data security is an important one to address.

Many measures have been developed to help protect data from unauthorized access. These include password protection schemes, encryption, and so on, which can provide layers of security to shield important information. But in general, these schemes are still, at least in theory, not entirely foolproof. Given enough time and resources, dedicated hackers would still be able to break the codes and access the data within.

Physical protection of the digital storage devices is also another option. However, this is not always feasible, or even possible. And when the hard disks containing the confidential information are to be disposed of or transferred to other locations, this physical security may not be possible to be retained.

In these cases, there is another way to ensure that data is inaccessible, and that is to perform the disk wipe operation. A disk wipe permanently and securely deletes all information on a hard disk, leaving virtually no chances for recovery. These utilities are necessary because ordinary file deletion or even hard disk reformatting does not actually delete data for good.

In normal file deletion, the data contained within the file actually remains on the disk until it is possibly overwritten in the future by new files or data. This means that deleted files are still detectable and traceable on the disk itself, and therefore recoverable. Some operating systems such as MSDOS even have built in UNDELETE commands, which can recover recently deleted files.

To securely and permanently delete single files or groups of files, software utilities known as file shredders are used. These file shredders take deletion one step further by actually physically overwriting the shredded file on the disk with randomized data. That is, instead of leaving most of the file data intact on the disk, file shredders actually replace this data with random, uncorrelated information. This makes it much harder, if not nearly impossible, to be able to recover the original data.

A disk wipe operates on the same principle, only on a larger scale. The entire disk itself is overwritten with random data which serves to mask any traces of information from the files previously on the disk. This makes wiping a disk much more secure than simply reformatting the disk. Reformatting works in the same way as normal file deletion: the actual data is left on the disk, and only the metadata or tags are changed.

Performing a disk wipe is not a difficult task. There are many programs available that can automatically detect and wipe connected hard disks. Typically, these programs can be placed onto removable storage such as CDs or flash drives, and would automatically execute the disk wipe process when brought into connection with a hard disk. This makes it possible to perform batches of disk wipes fairly easily.

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