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I have a USB hard drive that I'm planning on donating. Before I donate it, however, I want to be sure that it has been completely and unrecoverably wiped of personal information.

Darik's Boot-and-Nuke works for a built-in drive, but not for USB. Is there anything that will wipe an external USB?

I'm looking for something that will run from either Vista or from a boot CD.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you download the latest Beta Version of DBAN, it states that it supports USB.

I have tested it and it is a good beta build - it works fine.... Just one reported bug when you unplug a USB drive mid-wipe, but who would do that!

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Thank you, that worked perfectly – lacqui Dec 23 '09 at 6:28
dban is somewhat overkill IMO, for the task. I'd suggest the 'shred' command on most nixes for the job – Journeyman Geek Dec 23 '09 at 7:35

Boot up an Ubuntu live CD, open up the partition editor, and use the dropdown box in the upper right to find the drive with the correct size and contents to be your UBS disk (make sure you get this right, or you could end up wiping the wrong drive!). Make a note of the drive name (it should be something like "/dev/sdX", where X is any letter), open up a terminal, and run:

dd if=/dev/urandom of=[drive]

and then

dd if=/dev/zero of=[drive]

Where [drive] is the name you made a note of.

This will write random bits to the drive and then fill it with zeros. When you are done, you can use the partition editor again to verify that the disk has been wiped.

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If you're running Windows 2000 or better there is a built-in command line utility that overwites deleted data making it unrecoverable.

cipher /w:driveletter:\foldername

more detailed information

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This erases free space within a partition... what was asked was to erase an entire drive, presumably including areas outside partitions. – Ben Voigt Oct 17 '11 at 15:24
@Ben Voigt - so deleting the files, then using cipher won't work? – Beaner Oct 17 '11 at 22:51
It'll only erase most of the drive, some blocks will be left alone. – Ben Voigt Oct 17 '11 at 22:59

I'm assuming you're using Windows. Try Eraser. From the home page:

  • It works with Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008.
    • Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000 can still be used with version 5.7!
  • It works with any drive that works with Windows
  • Secure drive erasure methods are supported out of the box
  • Erases files, folders and their previous deleted counterparts
  • Works with an extremely customisable Scheduler
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the Windows version of Active@Killdisk works for external USB hard disc drives.

here's a direct download link for the free version, including the Windows executables:

Download KillDisk Suite (Free)v.5.1

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The free version can only do "one-pass overwrite with zeros", which is not effective. Even the "one-pass overwrite with random data" requires a paid copy. – Ben Voigt Oct 17 '11 at 15:26

All of the other answers do provide ways to prevent the drive from being read using OS based recovery tools, however if the drive swapped out sectors due to bad sector errors/wear leveling. The data could be recoverable by reading the media directly and bypassing the controller.

See this answer from the security SE site for more details and read the Inaccessible media areas section on Wikipedia's "Data remanence" article. Once something has been written on any drive (flash USB key/SSD/Spinning Disk) if you can not bypass the controller and write directly to the media (Even DBAN can not overwrite bad sectors) then you can not trust that the data is ever "gone".

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