Cleaning a hard drive with Linux

Last Updated on December 3, 2015 by Dave Farquhar

A friend asked me a favor in church one Sunday: He had a computer he wanted to clean off so he could donate it, but since it had financial data on it, he wanted to make sure it was cleaned up securely. I recommended Darik’s Boot and Nuke, which I’ve recommended before, but he wasn’t able to get it working for whatever reason. So he asked if I would clean it if he dropped it off. I agreed.

Rather than burn a DBAN disc, I just took the hard drive out and put it in a Linux box and wiped it with that. It was easier than trying to find a blank CD.

I suspected it was /dev/sdb, the second hard drive. So I ran the following:

fdisk -l /dev/sdb

And I received the following output:

Disk /dev/sdb: 160.0 GB, 160000000000 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 19452 cylinders, total 312500000 sectors
Units = sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disk identifier: 0xd0f4738c

   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sdb1              63      144584       72261   de  Dell Utility
/dev/sdb2   *      144585   305090414   152472915    7  HPFS/NTFS/exFAT
/dev/sdb3       305090415   312496379     3702982+  db  CP/M / CTOS / ...

That told me what I needed. The drive is at /dev/sdb, and the data is on /dev/sdb2. I left the other partitions alone, since it’s a Dell computer. The first partition looks like a utility partition and the third one looks like some kind of recovery partition.

So I wiped /dev/sdb2 with the following:

dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sdb2 bs=1024k

This overwrites the partition with random data. On this 156 GB partition, it took a while–something like three hours. I then followed it up with this:

mkfs.ntfs /dev/sdb2

This creates a valid NTFS filesystem on the partition, but first overwrites it with zeroes.

Overwriting multiple times would be better, but writing random data, then zeroing it out, formatting the partition and installing Windows on it is likely to be safe enough. At that point, recovering data from the drive is likely to cost more than the data is worth.

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