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Sanitization Methods for Cleaning Up Hard Disk Drives

Editor's intro:- This article reviews the various methods available to sanitize hard disks along with the advantages and disadvantages in each case.

Removing the data on old unwanted disk drives has become a concern for all users.

In 2005 a storage security company called Pointsec found that they were able to read 7 out of 10 hard-drives bought over the Internet at auctions such as eBay, for less than the cost of a McDonald's meal, all of which had "supposedly" been "wiped-clean" or "re-formatted".

Sanitization Methods for Cleaning Up Hard Disk Drives

by Jayson Oertel, Marketing Director - ICS
..... ICS
Every computer user that replaces his hard drive has to deal with the issue of erasing or wiping out the data from his old hard drive. The more sensitive the data the more important is the wipeout method and process. There are today 3 basic alternatives, with few variations, to solve this issue.
  1. Software solution
  2. Hardware duplicator solution
  3. Hardware Wipe Out solution
The advantages and disadvantages of these methods are discussed below.

(Editor:- a 4th method, which is less common, is physical destruction of the hard drive into small chunks from which data recovery is no longer feasible. This is the most expensive method but has the advantage of working in some situations when the others won't work - for example if there is an interface or media error in the hard drive which means that data can be read, but not overwritten.)

Software solution

This is a low cost single drive solution. There are several software programs that allow a user to attach a drive to his computer and erase its content. And on a fast computer this could run pretty fast.

  • Low cost (usually under $100)
  • Can only wipe out one drive at a time
  • Most low cost software programs do not support DOD (Department Of Defense) requirements for Wipe out.
  • Most programs do not support HPA (Host Protected Area) and DCO (Drive Configuration Overlay). Even if a program supports it, not all drive controllers inside the PC support those commands. This could potentially leave a lot of hidden information on the drive.
  • Programs that run under XP are prone to Viruses. Theoretically a virus can hinder the operation of the wipe out. The result could be partial wipe out or none at all. A DOS or Linux programs can solve this issue; the penalty is more complexity and less speed.
To summarize this option: This is a good solution for sophisticated users that do not need to deal with several drives at the same time, that can allocated a computer for this task and do not have highly sensitive data.

Hardware duplicator solution

This is the most expensive solution. Hardware duplicators are stand-alone units that are designed to duplicate multiple hard drives very fast at the same time. Most of those units support a wipe out option among many others.

  • Fast
  • Reliable
  • Expensive
  • Require some expertise
  • Not all unit support HPA and DCO
To summarize this option: This is a good solution for trained users that can operate a hard drive duplicator. It provides good speed and reliable wipeout. The main drawback though, is the full cost of a duplicator for the only use of wipe out. Due to the complex configurations options of the duplicator it is easily possible to misconfigure the unit, resulting in partial wipe out.

Hardware Wipe Out solution

Referring to the above factors, the author's company, Intelligent Computer Solutions Inc (ICS) came out with a solution that combines the advantages of SW and HW and eliminate all the disadvantages and risks of the other solutions. This is a stand alone hardware unit that is dedicated to wipe out 9 drives at a time and is about 40% of the cost of an equivalent duplicator. Since it is optimized for wipe out it does not have many configuration options and it makes it extremely easy to operate.

  • Fast.
  • Reliable
  • Simple to operate
  • Support all IDE and SATA drives
  • Support HPA and DCO
  • No viruses concerns
  • No need to allocate a computer
  • Does not require a sophisticated user
  • Erase data from multiple hard drives (upto 9 simultaneously) faster than it would take to a regular computer to wipe out data from one hard drive.
  • higher cost than software for low volume of disks (Editor)
To summarize this option

This is the best solution for wiping out drives. The unit's simple interface minimizes user error, even with an untrained user. Since the unit is optimized for wipe out it is much less expensive than full duplicator and it supports all the requirement of wiping out hard drives.

Currently (in 2005) the only manufacturer of such a system is Intelligent Computer Solutions. It is a stand alone unit and eliminate the need to dedicate another unit (such as a computer or a duplicator) for such a task, and therefore the most cost effective solution ever. With the growing demand by law, such as the new HIPPA Regulations and the procedures for computer forensic data acquisition) the need of many government agencies to suddenly face the need to erase huge amounts of data and do it forensically (with many iterations on each hard drive it seems that any other solution known so far would not stand to the task.

...Later:- now there are lots of disk sanitizer companies listed here on

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Disk Sanitizers
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Is it true that the Queen's apartments are
dusted clean by those bushy hats?
Megabyte was sworn to secrecy.
WipeMASSter Disk Sanitizers erazes 9 disks to Dod standards at hardware speed
WipeMASSter Hard Disk Sanitizers
from Intelligent Computer Solutions
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