Formatting Your Drive Doesn’t Wipe Your Data

If you want to discard a hard drive and protect your data from dumpster divers, can you format it and then throw it out? Not if you care about the data. In most cases, “formatting” provides hardly any protection. Even in the best case, a determined analyst may be able to recover the data.

The term “formatting” has a long history. In the early days of personal computers, disks had to have low-level information written to them to establish tracks and data sectors. Formatting meant putting this information on the disk. It replaced any existing disk structure.

As technology grew more advanced, disk drives came pre-formatted. The computer might have to set up a file system, but the tracks and sectors were already there. Vendors love to keep familiar terms, so they called the file system initialization “formatting.” There was an important difference. The new “formatting” doesn’t erase most of the existing data.

If you discard a hard drive after doing that, you’ve protected it only from naive users. Anyone with low-level disk tools can recover most of the data. If you want the information to be irrecoverable, the best way is to physically crush the drive using equipment designed for the purpose.

Even low-level formatting, if you can do it, isn’t entirely safe. It overwrites the sector information but doesn’t wipe out everything that was there before. It takes special techniques, but the experts know how to get it back. Do a Web search for “recover formatted drive” and you’ll find lots of services that do it at a reasonable price. Hopefully their customers have legitimate reasons, but the service doesn’t know where the disks it gets came from.

Formatting doesn’t make your data irrecoverable. Crushing does. If you seriously care about keeping your data safe from dumpster divers, look into our disk crushing equipment. It will do the job thoroughly and safely.

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