FREE: Active@ Kill Disk - hard driver eraser

Active-KillDisk As an IT pro, you probably know that deleting data from a hard drive doesn’t ensure that it can’t be recovered with an undelete utility even though you emptied the Windows Recycle Bin. Even if you format a hard disk data it can be recovered. Thus if you take old PCs out of service, you have to wipe all data from the hard disk with an erase tool such as Active@ Kill Disk to ensure that nobody is able to access sensitive data. In particular, PCs that have been used by admins can contain stored passwords or hash codes of passwords which might be in danger once a bad guy gets physical access to the hard drive.

There is a free and a commercial version of Active@ Kill Disk. The main difference is that the free version only supports a one pass erase method. Sophisticated overwriting standards such as Peter Gutmann’s algorithm use up to 35 overwriting rounds. Active@ Kill Disk also supports the well-known DoD 5220.22-M of the US Department of Defense.

The question is whether the hard disks on your PCs contain data that could endanger national security if the wrong person gets access to it. If not, the one pass method of the free version of Active@ Kill Disk is most likely sufficient. This Wikipedia article claims that ATA disk drives manufactured after 2001 (over 15 GB) can be effectively cleared by one overwrite. You also have to take into account that overwriting a hard disk is quite time consuming. It took me 16 hours to erase a 300GB hard drive with the one pass method of Active@ Kill Disk.

Active-KillDisk-DOS Non-system disks can be erased with the Windows version. To purge a complete system drive, you have to boot the DOS version Active@ Kill Disk from a CD, a USB flash or a floppy. The Active@ Kill Disk suite comes with tools that help you create the boot media. The commercial DOS version also supports password change, partition recovery, and disk imaging.

The Windows version can also be to wipe only unallocated data. This also works for the system drive. When the operating system deletes files on the disk, it only clears their directory entries. This is the reason why undelete utilities can recover deleted files if they have not been overwritten by other files yet. Thus, if you have deleted sensitive data you can use Active@ Kill Disk to completely erase it.

What I am missing is a feature that allows me to directly erase a file or folder from Windows Explorer. AbsoluteShield File Shredder works like this.

Do you know another good erase utility? How do you dispose old hard drives?

Active@ Kill Disk ^

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13 Comments
  1. Ronin Vladiamhe 12 years ago

    I've been using Active@ KillDisk Professional 3.1 since early 2007, and it has worked very well. So much so that I've never considered upgrading. As for disposing of hard drives, this has been a question for years, with so many avenues one can take. Absent destroying the drive, or maybe a strong magnetic field, is there anything out that can make date 100% unrecoverable?

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  2. I think methods such as the Peter Gutmann’s algorithm are 100% secure. A strong magnetic field is not really better.

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  3. Jesper Ravn 12 years ago

    Hi Michael

    Another freeware tool could be Eraser.
    http://www.heidi.ie/node/6

    The build-in commands in Windows could also be a solution.

    format : /fs:ntfs /x
    cipher /w::

    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/814599

    /Jesper

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  4. Josh 12 years ago

    Hey guys, I just wanted to give a suggestion. I'm looking for monitoring software that I can run at home on my server and monitor colocated servers I have. Or I can put it on a box in the DC. Either way, you guys should categorize your Free Tools as it would make it a lot easier for people to find specific software. In case you know of software off the top of your head as to what I'm looking for, I do want something that I can go back a week/month, etc and see what the CPU usage was, or the memory usage, etc.

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  5. Lucas 12 years ago

    I have been using DBAN (Darik's Boot And Nuke)
    http://www.dban.org/

    It's free, open source, and can use (among others) the Peter Gutmann’s algorithm without the one-pass limitation of the free Active@ Kill Disk.

    Worked great for me.

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  6. Ronin Vladiamhe 12 years ago

    I have the paid version of Active@KillDisk, so the Gutmann algo is available, along with a few other also. Since the Gutmann algo is slow, I have refrained from using it. I might have to rethink that approach on the near future.

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  7. Jesper, the feature list of Eraser looks impressive. Chipher is certainly also an option. I should have mentioned it in the article. However, formatting the disk isn't secure enough in my view.

    Josh, you are right, I should categorize the free tools. I hope I will find some time for it in the near future. The best free monitoring tool I know is the The Dude.

    Lucas, thanks for the hint. DBAN is certainly great if you want to erase a complete disk.

    Ronin, how much longer does the Gutmann algo need compared to the method of the free version?

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  8. Ronin Vladiamhe 12 years ago

    Pietro,

    I guess I'm looking at Gutmann from the standpoint of its 35 passes. Of course, if one wants to make data unrecoverable, maybe 35 passes is worth the time.

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  9. Ronin, it is not worth the time. I just stumbled across this scientific study which proves that one pass is by far enough. Buying a disk wiping tool is a waste of money.

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  10. JP 12 years ago

    Help please.

    had a file on my internal 2nd drive (not the operating system drive) with 49g of old video files. Had tried to delete it several different ways but explorer.exe kept chocking on it and would stop trying. I used Active Kill Disk to wipe this drive. Now it does not show up in the my computer window. How do I reallocate it to vista so that it can be used again?

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  11. You probably have to format the disk. You can do this in the Computer Management Console. Just type "computer..." in Start Search, then click on "Disk Management". Good luck!

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  12. JP 12 years ago

    yes! I came back to post the fix but it seams that you have beat me to it. Thanks for helping!

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  13. Stu Kopelman 11 years ago

    Here is one of Peter Gutmann's original papers on "Secure Deletion of Data from Magnetic and Solid-State Memory". It is a brilliantly written article, one which I have read, and will surprise those who believe that data is 100% erasable.

    http://www.cs.auckland.ac.nz/~pgut001/pubs/secure_del.html

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