Clean slate for old drives

Drive eRazer scrubs data from hard drives for secure disposal

A VITAL ASPECT of information security
is handling old computers and hard drives
that are no longer useful to your organization.
Because old computers could have
proprietary or classified information on
them, most government agencies have
policies that prohibit simply tossing them
out or even donating them to a charity
without first securely removing or otherwise
destroying the data.

Otherwise, hackers, spies and other troublemakers
would flock to dumpsters.

We all are aware by now that simply
deleting files isn't enough. It's too easy to
recover files these days with one of several
programs designed to do that. Reformatting
a drive to remove critical information
is a better idea, but a determined and
knowledgeable hacker can still retrieve
fragments of data. Although many software
companies boast that their products can
erase your hard drive more securely than
reformatting, using them can take hours to
complete. And that doesn't count installation,
which takes more valuable time.

Most organizations are left with two choices. One way is to physically destroy
the drive, which most information technology
departments are not equipped
to do. A friend who used to work at the
National Institute of Standards and Technology
had to do this a long time ago and
said it meant hitting vital spots on old computers
with a hammer before they were
tossed out. The other way is to keep the
equipment in storage perpetually, or at
least until the information it contains is no
longer vital. This can quickly fill up a network
administrator's already limited storage

The Drive eRazer from Wiebetech
might be able to solve this dilemma. Drive
eRazer is a useful tool, and its hardwarebased
method for eliminating data on a
disk is reasonably fast and completely
thorough. It will work on any Integrated
Drive Electronics (IDE) or Parallel Advanced
Technology Attachment
(PATA) hard drive. It
securely removes all data
from a hard drive by writing
a repeating pattern '
usually all zeros ' across
every last bit of the drive.

We found the setup of the
Drive eRazer to be rather
simple after a hard drive is
removed from its computer.
To connect a drive to the
Drive eRazer, insert the
control and power plugs in
the appropriate places, and
you are ready to go. You
only need to plug the Drive eRazer into a
power socket and flip the switch, and it
begins the process of erasing the data.

The Drive eRazer uses only five LED
lights to tell you everything that's going on
with the device and the drive it is erasing.
One is for incoming power, two are for
outgoing power, and one tells you if a
hard drive is connected through the control
ribbon. That leaves a single LED to
tell you about the current status of the
drive erasure process or any errors that
might crop up.

Fortunately, the
user's manual details the
meanings of the blinks from the
status LED. When the process starts, it
will give a solid light until it is done calculating
the total erase time. Then a series of
blinks indicate the approximate number
of minutes remaining. If the system finishes
successfully, it will go solid again. If
there is an error, it will repeatedly blink
from three to 11 times, depending upon
the error.

We found this to be a bit
convoluted but not overly
difficult once we learned
what the LED was saying.
However, most users will
likely become frustrated
with having to count blinks
just to find out how much
time is left. In our first test,
which accidentally happened
to be with a bad
drive, we couldn't figure out
what was wrong at first
without examining the
user's manual in great detail.

Even a small LCD
screen that could display letter codes
would be more immediately informative.
The unit does display some important
information: A large warning label on the
side of the device cautioned that any drive
connected to it would be erased. In a busy
and often cluttered workspace, this type
of precaution cannot be understated.
For environments in which drive overheating
is a danger, Wiebetech has included
a metal plate with rubber feet that
screws onto the bottom of the drive. This
will help with heat dispersal, which could
be necessary
for larger drives that take
longer to erase.

In our tests, the Drive eRazer
managed to erase data from hard drives at
a rate of 50.2 megabytes/sec. This equates
to erasing an 80G drive in 28.5 minutes or
a 250G drive in 89.2 minutes. This is certainly
faster than any software-based
process we have used.

The Drive eRazer also comes in a Pro
model. In addition to the one-pass erasure,
the Pro also performs Secure Erase
mode, which uses the firmware in most
modern hard IDE or PATA drives to clear
stray pieces of data that might be invisible
to the operating system.

We were a bit surprised to find that
there was no support for Serial Advanced
Technology Attachment drives. With the
proliferation of Serial ATA drives in the
market, we would have thought that this
format would be included in any hard
drive tool. Wiebetech does offer adapters
that let the Drive eRazer work on Serial
ATA drives, but they are sold separately or
offered in bundles.

After the process is complete, the drives
are still in usable condition. Only the data
is erased, with the hardware left untouched.
So if your agency allows it, you
could reinstall the hard drives into computers
and donate them or use the older
computers for some low-level applications.

The Drive eRazer from Wiebetech costs
$100. For a device that is likely to be used
over and over again to free valuable storage
space taken up by old computers, this is a
good deal.

Wiebetech, 866-744-8722,

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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