How to Securely Erase & Destroy Digital Data

April 20th, 2012

What do you do with your old hard disks, flash memory, and solid-state drives when you’re no longer using them? Perhaps you upgraded from a 1GB flash drive to brand new 32GB stick and you just thought you’d delete everything on your old device to give to a friend. What did you really just give them though?

You might already know that simply deleting files in the Finder or Windows Explorer & emptying the bin is insufficient to securely erase data, so how do you wipe storage media clean? Re-formatting? Not enough!

The only secure method to destroy sensitive data – while maintaining the ability to re-use the device in question – is to overwrite it with new data, random or otherwise. Multiple times, too – if you’re using magnetic storage, which unfortunately adds time to completion. Flash & solid state mediums have the distinct advantage of being immune to magnetic fields, so a single overwrite is perfectly secure; in fact running multiple unnecessary wipes can shorten the lifespan of your flash or SSD device.

Lucky for you there are several ways to securely erase free space, a single partition, or an entire device. Let’s take a look at some of the choices:

DBAN (Darik’s Boot And Nuke)

DBAN (free & open source) runs on any PC with a standard BIOS, regardless of what operating system is installed. Downloading DBAN takes just a minute, and gives you an ISO image that you can burn to a CD or DVD. Once you have a DBAN disc ready, restart your computer and set your BIOS to boot from the optical drive first. Once booted to DBAN, you’ll see instructions for how to quickly start erasing all hard drives in the computer (be careful!), or you can just press return to boot a friendly interactive mode that lets you specify which partition(s) or whole drive(s) in your computer to erase, what technical method of “randomness” you prefer, and how many times you want to overwrite the device. Support for RAID controllers & external devices is minimal to non-existent, but you’ll be happy to know if your PC has a floppy drive DBAN can save a log of its actions to a diskette for your review.

Mac OS X Disk Utility

Disk Utility (included with OS) provides an easy way to securely overwrite data in all versions since Mac OS X Panther. There’s nothing to download or install, and you don’t even need to restart — unless of course you want to erase the active boot volume. Found in Applications > Utilities, Disk Utility gives you the ability to wipe any volume(s) or drive(s) as many as 37 times, or even just wipe the free space on a volume without destroying the entire partition. The best thing Disk Utility has going for it besides ease-of-use is great compatibility: if Mac OS X can see and use it, Disk Utility will erase it!

Eraser

Eraser (free & open source) is an application you install, based on the same technology as DBAN, that brings some of Mac OS X Disk Utility’s features to Windows. Specifically, it allows you to securely erase just the recycle bin’s contents (similar to Finder’s Secure Empty Trash option), erase just the free space on a partition, or overwrite an entire partition’s contents. As with Disk Utility, it also just works with any drive Windows can see, breaking through the limitation of DBAN’s live boot with its basic driver set.

dd

dd (free & open source) is a command built-in to most Linux and UNIX distributions that also shares the advantage of being able to work with any drivers currently loaded in the host OS. A simple command to erase a whole drive would be:

dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sdb bs=1M

Where sdb is the device you want to erase. Unfortunately dd has no indication of progress & time remaining as with all of the alternatives.

Active@ KillDisk

KillDisk (free edition, Pro from $39.95+), at first glance, appears to be the hybrid offspring of DBAN + Eraser, though it pre-dates both, and runs in DOS instead of Linux. The free edition will let you write zeros over any partition (or whole drive), but if you want to overwrite with random data you’ll have to cough up $39.95 for the Pro version that runs in DOS only (the Windows version starts at $49.95). The DOS version is not compatible with as many devices as DBAN, and the most useful “Pro” functionality in the Windows version comes free with competitors, so for these reasons we recommend checking out the alternatives first.

Magnets Don’t Work

The #1 myth about data destruction is that a powerful magnet will erase & protect your data. The truth is that no magnet you can take home will do this for you, otherwise the bone-crushing magnet that’s already in your hard drive would be erasing data for you! In the December 4, 2008 episode of Security Now, host and security & hard drive expert, Steve Gibson, explains that simply trying to degauss a hard drive with a magnet from the shell produces no results, and that the simplest & best method to prevent data recovery from a decommissioned storage device is to physically destroy it.

Hammer Time

If you have no use for a disk drive anymore, or have a defective device, the best method for secure data destruction is to physically destroy the device beyond repair. Check with your toolbox, garage workshop, or local home improvement store for ideas and assistance. There are companies and organizations that will shred storage media for you, but these are typically only available to businesses with large amounts of equipment to crush and recycle.

1-800-HOSTING employs several methods of secure data erasure and destruction, including all of the methods described above. Does your hosting company have your security (and your customer’s) in mind?

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Local Storage For Instance’s

April 9th, 2012

Instance.com is now offering local storage as an option for your instances. Selecting the local storage template and corresponding local storage plan will allow your instances to be run directly from the cloud nodes where they live. This allows for increased disk performance as well as an increase in the storage capacity (100GB) of the instances root disks. While you do receive the increased disk performance and storage features, high availability is not offered on these plans. However, you can make still make your applications redundant and scalable through use of the included load balancing features.

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Diabetes Research, For Shame.

March 6th, 2012

It’s hard to believe that in a world of nuclear energy, advanced biotechnology, and advancement in almost all other areas of science, that diabetes sufferers are still plagued with the same issues as when insulin was first synthesized for commercial use in the 1920’s. But here we are, in 2012, and we are struggling with limited understandings of all the working parts involved with diabetes control, and trying to find mechanical solutions to solve these problems. Sure, the technology has changed drastically since the 20’s. No longer do you have to sterilize in steam and sharpen large syringes by hand. You also probably won’t find a lot of diabetics complaining if they have an insulin pump, or 24 hour acting insulin such as Lantus, even if they do gripe about the aesthetic nature of wearing or using such gadgets. After almost 100 years of research and development however, you have to start asking yourself if we as a civilization are really getting anywhere with diabetes relief, especially with Type 1.

What brings this to mind is an article and video I recently came across on CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/04/health/artificial-pancreas/index.html In it, a 12 year old girl constantly fights the highs and lows characteristic of Type 1 diabetes management, and her wearing an artificial pancreas brings a short amount of relief until she has to leave the hospital, and the artificial pancreas behind, after the test trials end.

Pretty much everything within the apparatus is already in commercial use. The insulin pump, continuous blood glucose monitor, etc. The largest factor in bringing this all together is probably the computer program that decides when glucose is introduced, when insulin is, and how it all relates to the high or low blood sugar readings. In addition to the cumbersome nature of tabulating all of this information, the apparatus is as large as a fanny pack, and you have to be connected to the units for injecting insulin and glucose at all times.

I’m not saying that I expect an outright cure, not right now. What I do think is that the make-shift way we are dealing with Type 1 and even Type 2 diabetes as an epidemics is unacceptable. With the pool of resources most research organizations receive, a more thorough look into diabetes and its various working parts should be possible, and expected more rapidly. With President Obama’s efforts to combat cancer, there should also be more emphasis put on effective diabetes relief and prevention. If it’s a big pharma money issue, if you gave me the chance to pay a large sum of money to cure my diabetes, I’d sight on the dotted line. I think most diabetics would say the same.

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The Truth Will Make it Free

November 2nd, 2011

A few weeks ago at lunch I dropped my beloved iPhone 4 and shattered the back side glass. Fortunately I already knew the cost to replace it, as I had just been to the Apple Store the previous weekend with a friend who committed the same act of violence against his phone.

At $29 I thought he got away cheap – but I didn’t understand why my friend fabricated a ridiculous story about how the glass shattered on his phone. Later he told me it was to try to get sympathy from the Genius in order to replace the glass for free. Of course this lowered my opinion of him (not the lie, the fact that it was a terrible lie) and I knew it wasn’t going to work for me.

After recovering from my phone-dropped-glass-shattered induced heart attack, I scheduled an appointment with the Genius Bar online & was served by the very same Genius as my friend:

“How did this happen?” he asked.

I replied, “I dropped it in a parking lot.”

At that moment it felt like you could hear a pin drop in the store. All of the surrounding Apple employees looked toward me in shock & awe, not because I dropped my phone – but because I told the truth.

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

~George Owell (or not)

Unbeknownst to me, a store manager was standing right behind me, came up to the service desk, and asked for more details about my phone tragedy. It seemed as if nobody ever told him “Yes, it’s my fault & it hit the pavement.” The manager took my phone with him to the back of the store & came back minutes later letting me know the glass was replaced and that the repair cost was on him.

Nothing more than the truth made it free.

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Hunter Man

October 28th, 2011

The smell of the outdoors to me is a mixture of dust, dried leaves, gun powder, all carried by the wind of the season. I’m what you might call a hunter.

Friends of mine wouldn’t hesitate to call me a barbarian for shooting little woodland creatures, riding 4-wheelers, drinking Coors Lite, and maybe dipping. But, they also don’t fully understand the closeness to nature that hunters feel; traversing the earth, observing animals and plants, being out in the woods when it rains. They don’t quite understand what it’s like to camp outside, look up into a pitch black sky scattered with twinkling little stars, and breathe in the majesty that is our universe. But I don’t hold ignorance against them. Anyone who enjoys the outdoors is soon made aware by spending a weekend in the blind with me that it’s a give and take relationship with nature, and often times it takes my breath away.

Hunting is an exercise in self-reliance and survival, as well as it is on conservation. Whereas hunting does take the lives of animals for food, for those who respect nature and the circle of life, it is also a way to help control over population, and to become aware of the systemic value of life-cycles, and the role we all play in maintaining our planet.

Trust me, hunting for Cheez-Its at the supermarket isn’t the same as hunting your own food. The value you place on what you’ve caught and killed, cleaned and eaten is a lot more substantial than what you put on your Skinny Cow cheese wheels and crackers. It delves into the meaning of life and death, of resourcefulness and respectfulness. That’s why I hunt, and I challenge you to try it once or twice to gain a better appreciation for gathering your own food.

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