How to Permanently Delete Data on a Hard Drive, It’s Not as Straightforward as You Think

Perhaps one of the least known facts about data storage is the fact that even if you delete files on your hard drive, it does not mean that hackers cannot access them anymore. Yes, you read that correctly. It might come as a shock to you, but deleted those files can still be retrieved.

But That Doesn’t Make Sense

We know. It’s quite counter-intuitive, but the fact is your OS only deletes file records from the hard drive, not the files themselves. Once you delete information, the OS will mark that space as empty and will overwrite when you save other information. The free space on your hard drive is quite often still filled with information you thought you had deleted.

What’s more alarming is the fact that deleted files can even be recovered after formatting the hard drive. A recent study found that out of 129 old hard drives, many of which had been formatted, 5,000 credit card numbers, medical correspondences, love letters, and banking information were all still retrievable.

The folks over at ExpressVPN recently posted a helpful guide to help you ensure that your unwanted data is lost forever. Here are their suggestions:

  1. Always encrypt your hard drive. And you should do it as soon as you buy it. While most modern OSs already do this, it’s always better to be on the safe side and make sure that it does so. Find the support guides – a quick Google search should do it – to ensure that your OS is encrypting the data on your drive, and if not, how to enable it.
    You could use any of a number of data encryption software available on the market.
  2. If you are planning on selling your phone, PC, or external hard drive, make sure that you wipe your drive before you give it away. Almost all operating systems have built-in tools that can format your drive. That would be Disk Management for Windows, Disk Utility for Mac OS, and Disks for Ubuntu. And just to be on the safe side, do it more than once.

  3. In the extreme event where you want to be 100% sure that your data will end up in the wrong hands, physically destroy the storage drive. Clearly, this method is not applicable if you want to reuse or sell your device, but it is the most certain way that the data will be gone. On a PC, this method is more viable, as HDDs can often be replaced. So just take it out, smash it, buy a new one and install it, then refer back to point 1 in this article