How to Erase Data Securely From Hard Drives and SSDs, Including NVMe
Data is of utmost importance for businesses and consumers in today’s digital world. Everything from documents, emails, and passwords to financial information is stored on your hard drives or SSDs. Data’s immense growth and importance have led to a greater need for secure data erasure methods to dispose of such sensitive information.
The question is, how do you securely erase data from a hard drive or an SSD and NVMe drive? Do we just rely on deleting or formatting the drives? Are these methods secure? In this blog, we will look at the different methods of data erasure and explore how to erase data securely from hard drives and SSDs, including NVMe.
When we talk about drives, they are broadly categorized into HDDs & SSDs; however, with modern interfaces and attachments, they can be categorized further into the following:
- Hard Drives
- Mechanical hard drives: Mechanical hard drives are drives that use spinning disks to store data. They are relatively inexpensive and can be found in most computers.
- Hybrid hard drives: These hard drives combine a mechanical hard drive with a small amount of solid-state storage. As a result, they are faster than mechanical hard drives but not as fast as SSDs.
- Solid-State Drives
- SATA SSDs: SATA-based SSDs are low in terms of performance and use the same interface as hard drives. Still, SATA-based SSDs have three to four times the bandwidth compared to spinning disk hard drives. In addition, SATA SSDs are more available and affordable than NVMe SSDs.
- NVMe SSDs. These SSDs use a newer interface called NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) that is faster than SATA.
- External Hard Drives. They are designed to be used externally and can be connected to a computer via a USB cable. As a result, they can store large amounts of data that do not need to be accessed frequently.
- Network-attached storage (NAS) devices. These are hard drives designed to be used on a network and can be accessed by multiple devices on the network. They are typically used to store data that needs to be accessed by multiple people, such as files in a small office.
The above drives can be found in most modern data-storing devices; knowing how to erase or wipe them is important for maintaining device hygiene and safeguarding sensitive data from being compromised.
There are several methods that can be used to securely erase data from hard drives and SSDs, including NVMe drives. Some of these methods include:
- Using a Data Erasure Software
Many free and paid data erasure software help securely erase data from hard drives and SSDs. These programs work by overwriting the data on the drive multiple times with patterns of zeros and ones, making it virtually impossible to recover the data. Therefore, it is important to evaluate the tools and their effectiveness. One tool that we found meaningful to erase data securely is BitRaser, tested and approved by NIST and DHS.
- Using Hardware Manufacture Reset Procedure
Most hard drive and SSD manufacturers offer a manual reset option to wipe data from their drives. However, it may not be secure and might be resetting the device rather than making the data unavailable.
- Deleting and Formatting
Deleting and Formatting are unsecure methods to wipe data on drives, as when you delete or format a drive; the data isn’t actually erased from your drive (HDD / SSD). Instead, the space the file occupies is marked as available for writing, meaning the data is still there and can be recovered using DIY data recovery software freely available in the market.
- Physically Destroying the Drive:
If you want to ensure that the data on a hard drive or SSD is completely unrecoverable, you can physically destroy the drive. This can be done by crushing the drive, drilling holes through it, or melting it with a blowtorch. However, these methods are not advisable as it is not environmentally sustainable. Moreover, SSDs and NVMes cannot be degaussed.
Choosing the Best Method for Data Erasure:
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, prescribes the following three methods in their guidelines. You can choose the right appropriate method basis the device type.
It technically means data erasure. It destroys the existing information by overwriting it with characters like 0s, 1s, etc. The technique is implemented using specialized data overwriting algorithms, so there is no chance for recovery or retrieval.
Drives: HDD, ATA, SCSI, USB, SSD, NVMe, memory cards, EEPROM, etc.
- Block Erase
By providing a significantly high voltage level to all NAND cells in a solid-state drive, including retired, reallocated, spare, and over-provision cells, the Block Erase method erases data.
Drives: ATA SSD, PATA & SATA SSD, SCSI SSD, SAS etc.
- Cryptographic Erase
The Cryptographic Erase technique erases or replaces the Media Encryption Key of self-encrypting drives (SEDs), thereby rendering the data in the form of ciphertext, which is illegible.
Drives: All devices that support native encryption.
You can choose the most suitable method based on your requirements and applicable local and federal laws.
The Best Tool to Wipe Data from HDDs, SSDS & NVMe
While there are many free and paid software for wiping data from Drives, it is advisable to go for certified data erasure software like BitRaser that can be easily deployed through a bootable USB.
You can boot your laptop, desktop, or Mac using the bootable USB and select the hard drive or SSD you want to erase. The program will then overwrite every sector on the drive with random data, effectively destroying any and all information previously stored on the drive.
SSDs and NVMe drives are becoming increasingly popular as storage devices due to their speed and reliability. However, when it comes to erasing data from these drives, the process is not much different compared to traditional hard drives. Still, software deployment can vary for Mac devices especially newer models like Mac with M1 or T2 chips. The difference arises due to the secure boot features that come in Mac devices and not because of the storage system.
Points to Remember
The importance of data erasure has grown in prominence owing to the enormous costs of data breaches and the rapid enactment of successive data privacy laws. For example, since 2017, five US states have enacted their data privacy laws, and a federal bill is expected to come soon.
As a result, it is now critical more than ever for businesses to have the technical know-how to perform data erasure on storage devices using the correct tools to stay compliant and protect their confidential data. Likewise, it is important for consumers to wipe their data securely when disposing of their devices or while donating to secure themselves from fraud, identity theft, etc.