What if your old hard drive ends up in the wrong hands? Your tax return, financial records, intimate photos, and more could be used against you.

During the 2007 NBA Playoffs, an interesting article appeared. It seems the San Antonio Spurs guard, Bruce Bowen, and his wife had filed a lawsuit against a local computer firm when their hard drive and data ended up on another person's computer. The recipient of the hard drive contacted Mr. Bowen and informed him of the breach of privacy.  As a computer consultant myself, I see a huge breach of computer privacy with this case and I could see Mr. Bowen winning the lawsuit easily.

Now what can you do to avoid a similar situation as Mr. Bowen's? First you have to decide if you want to permanently erase the data or destroy the drive. If you decide to permanently erase the data, you have several options. However let's go over what you DON'T want to do.

What Not To Do 

  • Don't just delete your data and empty the recycle bin
  • Don't just format the hard drive 
  • Don't just format and reinstall Windows or another operating system
Why don't you want to do the above? It seems this would be enough to make sure your data isn't compromised.

Let's take a step back and understand how data is stored on a hard drive. When information is written to a drive, the location of the information is stored in a file that resembles a table of contents for a book, On computers running DOS and Windows operating systems, the File Allocation Table (FAT) or the Master File Table (MFT) holds this information. When a file is deleted, the FAT or MFT table is updated to tell the computer the space on the hard drive is available, however the actual data is not deleted until it is overwritten with new data. This is why you read about computer forensic teams, the FBI, and other law enforcement being able to recover data to solve crimes or incriminate individuals. Using software undelete tools, you can restore files that were accidentally or otherwise deleted. In more severe case, services such as Drive Savers are used to recover data that has been physically or electronically destroyed.

You can use the procedures below to erase or destroy your data so the average individual won't be able to recover anything from your computer hard drive.

Using Wipe Utilities

In order to prevent data from being recovered, you should use data wiping software to completely erase the information. Disk wiping overwrites each individual sector on a hard drive multiple times to erase the data from the entire hard drive. How many times to overwrite the data is always an interesting topic of discussion, recommendations will range from 1 pass, 3 pass, 7 pass, up to 30 or more passes. The exact number of times to overwrite the data has changed throughout the years. My advice is to just use the default setting for any of the programs below and fully erase the data. I recommend the following free tools to sanitize or wipe a hard drive of information:

If you plan on giving your computer away, selling it, or otherwise disposing of it, please destroy the data on it by using one of the above wiping utilities. For all practical purposes, wiping the drive with one of the utilities above will be sufficient in making sure your data does not fall into the wrong hands. 

Degaussing a Hard Drive

An extra step is to degauss the hard drive. Degaussing is a process whereby the magnetic media is erased using a reverse magnetic field to scramble the electronic data and make it unreadable. Unfortunately degaussing machines are rather expensive ($2000.00 or more) and are not realistic purchases for the average consumer. However, you can send your hard drive to a degaussing company like Garner Products or SEM and for a few dollars can have your hard drive completely degaussed and/or destroyed. If your data security is important enough, this is a wise step. A hard drive that is degaussed is rendered useless.

Physically Destroying a Hard Drive

Physically destroying a hard drive is by far the most effective method to ensure the safety of their data. If you choose this method, please wear protective glasses and other gear to keep yourself safe. It can be a dangerous activity that I don't recommend to everyone. Also, as a precaution, wrap the hard drive in a towel so the parts don't fly off and do more damage.

There is actually a Do-it-Yourself kit for physically destroying a hard drive called the Diskstroyer, it comes with all the tools and things needed to magenetically and physically destroy the hard drive.

Whether its smashing the hard drive with a sledgehammer, drilling holes into the drive, tearing the drive apart and destroying the platters, shredding the drive, or other methods your sensitive data will be safe.

For the most security, I recommend doing as many of the above procedures (wiping the drive, degaussing it, and destroying it) as you can. If a drive is wiped, degaussed, and destroyed the chances of recovering the data is almost nil.


If a computer store, consultant, or other qualified computer tech tells you your hard drive is crashed and the data is unrecoverable, ask for them to return the original drive to you. This way you can wipe it clean, degauss it, or physically destroy it and dispose of the drive to your satisfaction and avoid situations like Mr. Bowen's where your data suddenly appears on someone else's computer screen.

Written by Mark Hasting

Links to Other Important Information

Support for Windows XP and Windows Vista without latest service packs ends in 2010

How to Fix 500 Internal Server Error in PHP 5.4 script

Computer shows Stop error and Continously Reboots after SP3 installed.

Product Key Does Not Match Current Windows SKU Error

Review of FastAgain PC Booster and How to Uninstall it

How to Remove MSBLAST.EXE worm

How to Remove Content Advisor Password in Internet Explorer

How to Fix Google Chrome not Opening Web Pages or Settingsnew

How to Remove Incredimail Automatically

How to Fix Problem of Limited or No Connectivity After installing Windows XP Service Pack 2

How to Recover From a Corrupted Registry in Windows XP

How to Speed Up Windows Boot Time

Acer ERecovery Service is Not Available

Acer Recovery CD Restore Failed Reason: 0xf0000051

How to Fix Problem with No Active Mixer Devices Available in Windows XP

Parents Guide to MySpace.com - a report every parent should read

Save and Restore Desktop Layout of Icons

What is Windows Genuine Advantage and How to Overcome Problems With It

Change Forgotten Administrator Password in Windows XP/2000/Vista

Not Enough Server Storage Error When Connecting to Computer on Network

Installing Windows Vista Upgrade on a Blank Hard Drive

How to Delete Your Windows Vista Logon Password

Remove Unwanted Icons from the Windows Vista Welcome Center

Cannot Connect to Network Printer with Windows Vista

How to Wipe, Delete, Degauss, and Destroy Data on a Hard Drive

Fixing RTHDCPL.EXE - Illegal System DLL Relocation Error in Windows XP

How to Fix Blank or Missing Title Bar in IE9

Unable to Open New Tab in IE9 - Spinning Favicon

Fix 404 Errors for /apple-touch-icon-precomposed.png and /apple-touch-icon.png

What is the Config.Msi folder and Can I Delete It?

Flash Player Installation Issues

How to Set Yahoo Mail as your Default Email Program

Unknown File in Winsock LSP - NWPROVAU.DLL - Can it be Removed?

How to Delete a Service in Windows Vista

How to Disable the On-Screen Keyboard in Windows Vista

Make Disk Cleanup Run Faster

What is CTFMON.EXE and How Can I Remove It

How to Export MSN Favorites to Internet Explorer

How to Fix Registry Editing Has Been Disabled By Your Administrator Error

How to Change Default Editor in Windows and Fax Viewer

How to Fix Problem when Windows Security Center reports multiple antivirus programs installed

How to Fix Problem when Windows Updates will download but will not install

How to Fix Problem when Windows Automatic Updates Service wont Start

Cannot Download Files With Internet Explorer

How to Keep Your Computer Up-to-Date

How to Fix the Prompt for Click to Run an ActiveX Control on this webpage

How to Remove "This Page Contains Both Secure and NonSecure Items" Warning Message

How to Fix Problem with Blank Add/Remove Control Panel

How to Fix Windows Vista Update Error 80244019

Troubleshooting An Error Occurred During Directory Enumeration

How to View and Decipher Minidump files created by Blue Screen error messages

How to Fix BLService Error on HP Computer in Vista

Google Adsense Hijacking - How to Respond

Windows Defrag Does Not Complete

Review of BigString Recallable Email

Fix Incorrect Time Stamp on Hotmail Messages

Deleting or Editing Typed URLs in the Internet Explorer Address Bar

Belarc Advisor - Quick Computer Inventory Software

How to Get Out of Full Screen Mode in Internet Explorer

How to Correct Missing "Copy to CD" option in My Pictures Tasks

How to Fix Code 39 error with CD or DVD Drive

How to Fix Problems When Windows Installer Popups Error With Missing .MSI Files

How to Fix Problems When Network Setup Wizard and Network Connections Won't Open

How to Fix Problems with Windows Help Errors

How to Delete Individual Entries from Run Command History

Foxit - Adobe Reader Alternative

How to Fix Autochk Program Not Found error

Difference between Master/Slave and Cable Select on a Hard Drive

How to Use Microsoft SyncToy to backup your important files

How to Delete Temporary Internet Files, Cookies, and History files

Review of PCDecrapifer Software Removal Tool

How to Fix Security Flaw in Adobe Reader

Computer Speakers Sound like Chipmunks

How to SVCHOST.EXE Application Error 0x745f2780

Troubleshooting the Unmountable Boot Volume Error in Windows XP

How to Disable, Uninstall, and Remove Windows Messenger instant messaging from Windows XP

How to Remove Windows Messenger in Windows XP

Free DVD Decoder Software and Help

Free CD Burning Software and Help

How to Use Remote Desktop to Access Multiple Computer on Your LAN

HijackThis Tutorial for removing Spyware

Review of Adsense Detective, Getting Stats and Results from Adsense

How to Disable System Restore in Windows ME or Windows XP

How to Uninstall Internet Explorer 7

How to Install NetBEUI in Windows XP

What is the KB891711.exe file in Windows 98 or Windows ME?

How to Troubleshoot and Solve USB Device Error Code 10

Spooler Subsystem App has encountered a problem and needs to close Error and How to Fix it

How to Fix Problem opening Microsoft Outlook

How to Disable News Headlines in Netscape

How to Bring Back Missing Folders in Netscape Communicator

How to Fix Access Denied Error when Using MSCONFIG

How to Fix HPQKBFiltr.Sys Keylogger Error in Kaspersky Antivirus

How to Backup and Restore Outlook Express Mail, Address Book, Blocked Senders List and other Settings

How to Fix Error 501 Permission Denied when changing fonts in Outlook Express

What is the Tilde (~) File on my Desktop?

What is the thumbs.db file and can I remove it

Password is Not Saved in Outlook Express or Outlook in Windows XP

Allow Viewing of Attachments in Outlook Express 6

How to Fix Problem of No Spell Check in Outlook Express

How to Fix Problems Viewing or Accessing Secure Web Sites

How to Start or Boot Windows into Safe Mode

What is the Winmail.dat file attached to emails?

How to Correct Unreadable Fonts in Norton Antivirus or Norton Systemworks

How to correct issue with No Visible Menu Bar or Tabs in Windows XP Task Manager

How Disable/Enable the Windows XP Welcome Screen

How to Fix RTLGINA2.DLL error with Windows XP Welcome Screen and Netgear WG111

How to Fix Windows Update Error 0x80070420

PopUp Ad Removal Software and Help

Review of ErrorNuker program to identify and fix problems with the Windows Registry

Spyware and Adware Removal Help

Review of Netflix Online DVD Rental

Recommended Software for PC Hell Visitors