Selling USB Drives and Hard Drives Before Wiping Them Clean Could Haunt You

With platforms like eBay and all smaller, local websites that offers similar consumer-to-consumer services, it has never been easier to sell any old hardware you have. While there is nothing to worry about when selling your used discrete video card or processor, there are some things you should be careful with when getting rid of any old data storage devices like hard drives and flash drives.

In a recent report, security researchers working with the University of Aberlay stated that they were able to recover thousands and thousands of files from seemingly clean drives sold on eBay. The files contained "highly sensitive" files and personal information, including passwords, personal photos and bank statement records. Of course, this is cause for alarm, as this sort of information could be misused in a number of ways if it made its way into the hands of bad actors.

Similar personally identifiable data could be used for all sorts of malicious purposes, from blackmail to directly stealing money from accounts and illegally accessing accounts on other services that use shared passwords.

The university research team used a proprietary tool called USB WriteBlocker by CRU Data Security - a company dealing in storage systems and digital forensics. The thing is, bad actors also have access to comparable tools and could easily restore data you thought you had deleted properly from an old drive you want to sell.

Simple deletion and sometimes simple formatting of a device does not lead to its old contents being irreversibly wiped. With most devices, it takes several passes of writing new information over the old data to make the original files completely inaccessible.

Most people don't realize this and rely on simply deleting the files or running a regular format on their old flash or hard drives. However, there is an easy way to wipe your drives properly - wipe the old data and re-write the storage space with zeroes several times in a row.

You can do this by typing the appropriate command in your Windows start menu. Connect the drive you intend to wipe and sell, then type "format x: /p:3", without the quotation marks, replacing the letter x with the assigned drive letter of the device you are wiping. This will delete existing files and write three consecutive passes of zeroes, one over the other, in the blank space of the freshly formatted device.

This will make your freshly formatted drive safe and the old data on it - irrecoverable. Two or three passes of zeroes is generally considered the completely safe approach to wiping a storage device.

November 6, 2020

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