Securely wipe disk
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Wiping a disk is done by writing new data over every single bit.
- 1 Common use cases
- 2 Select a data source for overwriting
- 3 Select a target
- 4 Block size
- 5 Overwrite the disk
- 6 Data remanence
- 7 See also
Common use cases
Wipe all data left on the device
There may be (possibly unencrypted) data left on the device and you want to protect against simple Forensic Investigation that would be possible with i.e. File Recovery-Software.
If you are not going to set up block device encryption but just want to roughly wipe everything from the disk you could consider using /dev/zero or simple patterns instead of a cryptographically strong random number generator. (Referred to as RNG in this article from now on.) This allows to wipe big disks with maximum performance and is meant to provide a level of data erasure not allowing to reconstruct data with normal system functions like standard ATA commands.
Nevertheless it is possible you might consider prefering the RNG-Method due to Security concerns.
This is covered up in the Section about #Preparations for block device encryption.
Also read the section on the possibility of #Data remanence if you want to take wiping serious.
Preparations for block device encryption
If you want to prepare your drive to securely set up Block device encryption inside the wiped area afterwards you really should use random data.
Select a data source for overwriting
There are three sources of random data commonly used for securely overwriting hard disk partitions;
/dev/urandom, badblocks, and shred.
dd and /dev/urandom
#dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/<drive> bs=4096
/dev/<drive> is the drive to be encrypted.
#badblocks -c 10240 -wsvt random /dev/<drive>
/dev/<drive> is the drive to be encrypted.
See also badblocks.
shred uses three passes, writing pseudo-random data to the harddrive each pass. This can be reduced or increased.
# shred -v /dev/<drive>
/dev/<drive> is the drive to be encrypted. This invokes shred with default settings, displaying the progress to stdout.
# shred --verbose --random-source=/dev/urandom -n1 /dev/<drive>
Invokes shred telling it to only do one pass, with entropy from /dev/urandom. See GNU Coreutils for more information.
There are a variety of applications that securely wipe a disk like and . Alternatively, is an enhanced version of dd with features useful for forensics and security. It accepts most of dd's parameters and includes status output. The last stable version of dcfldd was released on December 19, 2006.
For Data that is not truely random your disk's writing speed should be the only limiting factor. If you need random data performance may heavily depend on what you choose as source of randomness.
The Kernel built-in RNG /dev/random provides you the same quality random data you would use for keygeneration, but can be nearly impractical to use at least for wiping current HDD capacitys. What makes disk wiping take so long with is to wait for it to gather enough true entropy. In an entropy starved situation (e.g. remote server) this might never end while doing search operations on large directories or if your at your desktop running a first person shooter can speed up things a lot.
You can always compare
/proc/sys/kernel/random/poolsize to keep an eye on your entropy pool.
A Good Compromise between Performance and Security might be the use of a pseudorandom number generator (like Frandom) or a cryptographically secure pseudorandom number generator like Yarrow (FreeBSD/OS-X) or Fortuna (the intended successor of Yarrow)
If you want to wipe sensitive data you can use anything matching your needs.
If you want to setup block device encryption afterwards you should always wipe at least with Pseudorandom data.
As a matter of course the best wiping practice is to never write unencrypted data.
Select a program
Checking progress of dd while running
By default, there is no output of dd until the task has finished. With kill and the "USR1"-Signal you can force status output without actually killing the program. Open up a 2nd root terminal and issue the following command:
# killall -USR1 dd
# kill -USR1 <PID_OF_dd_COMMAND>
# kill -USR1 $(pidof dd)
This causes the terminal in which dd is running to output the progress at the time the command was run. For example:
605+0 records in 605+0 records out 634388480 bytes (634 MB) copied, 8.17097 s, 77.6 MB/s
Select a target
Use fdisk to locate all read/write devices. This will include USB drives if the user can access them. List the partition tables:
# fdisk -l
Check the output for lines that start with devices such as
/dev/sda. For example:
Disk /dev/sdc: 4063 MB, 4063232000 bytes 125 heads, 62 sectors/track, 1024 cylinders Units = cylinders of 7750 * 512 = 3968000 bytes Disk identifier: 0x00000000
In the preceding example the USB thumb drive is listed as
If you have a Advanced Format hard drive it is recommended that you specify a block size larger than the default 512 bytes. To speed up the overwriting process choose a block size matching your drive's physical geometry by appending the block size option to the dd command (i.e.
To quickly find the block size of the device issue the following command:
# dumpe2fs -h /dev/sdX | grep 'Block size:'
Overwrite the disk
Zero-fill the disk by writing a zero byte to every addressable location on the disk using the /dev/zero stream.
# dcfldd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdX bs=4096
or the /dev/random stream:
# dcfldd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sdX bs=4096
The process is finished when dcfldd reports,
No space left on device. For example:
18944 blocks (75776Mb) written.dcfldd:: No space left on device
The residual representation of data may remain even after attempts have been made to remove or erase the data.
Residual data may be removed by writing random data to the disk or with more than one iteration. However, more than one iteration may not significantly decrease the ability to reconstruct the data of hard disk drives. For more information see Secure deletion: a single overwrite will do it or Overwriting Hard Drive Data: The Great Wiping Controversy.
If the data can be located on the disk and you can confirm that it has never been copied anywhere else, a random number generator provides a quick and thorough alternative.
Wiped hard disk drives and other magnetic storage can get disassembled in a cleanroom and then analyzed with equipment like a magnetic force microscope. This may allow the overwritten data to be reconstructed by analyzing the measured residual magnetics.
This method of data recovery for current HDD's is largely theoretical and would require substantial financial resources. Nevertheless degaussing is still practiced.
Old magnetic storage
Securely wiping old magnetic storage (e.g. floppy disks, magnetic tape) is much harder due to much lower memory storage density. Many iterations with random data might be needed to wipe any sensitive data. To ensure that data has been completely erased most resources advise physical destruction.
Like older magnetic storage, flash memory can be difficult to wipe because of wear leveling and transparent compression. For more information see Reliably Erasing Data From Flash-Based Solid State Drives.
Filesystem, operation system, programs
The operating system, executing programs or journaling file systems may copy your unencrypted data throughout the block device. However, this should only be relevant in conjunction with one of the above, because you are writing to plain disks.