There have been some pretty horrific stories about identity theft in the press over the last year or so and some of these have highlighted problems with data left on the hard drives of PCs, which are sold on or otherwise disposed of. Everything from account information to government secrets is supposed to have been filched in this way, so you need to do more than delete files or format your hard drive, before letting your computer(s) leave the building.
Ordinary formatting of a hard drive doesn’t remove file data, only the magnetic ‘markers’ on the disk which Windows (or any other operating system) uses to find its way around. To wipe the data, you need to physically write other data to the disk and it’s best to write several different things to it, one after the other, to make sure there’s no residual image of your original files left.
SecurEase 8 does this. It runs from the CD it’s supplied on, or from a floppy disk you create using that CD, and it has a simple, Windows-like front-end which enables you to select the drive to delete and the level of deletion.
A simple delete writes a single pass of binary zeros over the surface of the disk, while the more secure military spec for disk deletion – that’s military as in US Department of Defence – calls for three passes. After the first pass of zeroes, the middle pass writes binary ones and the final pass writes random characters.
The process isn’t quick. SecurErase made the first pass of our 10GB test drive in just over 27 minutes, but then verified the writing of the zeros, which took another 68 minutes; running total 95 minutes. That was for pass one; by the time it had finished all three passes, it had taken 4 hours 45 minutes. Try erasing a 200GB hard drive and you could, literally, be waiting for days.
If you’re just erasing the occasional hard drive you may be able to live with this, or to use single-pass erasure – which takes a third of the time – but if you’re buying the program for full security, you need to bear the speed of erasure in mind. It’s largely governed by the speed of the drive, too, so using a faster PC won’t make a lot of difference.
Once erasure was complete, the test drive was clear of data. We used a hex viewer to look at various parts of its surface and it was full of random characters. Although this isn’t a forensic examination of the drive, as could be carried out by a data recovery lab, we’re pretty convinced the drive was empty. It certainly offers no easy route to recover the data.
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