Securely Erasing Your SSD (3 Tried-and-True Methods)

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Securely Erasing Your SSD

If you want a simple, thorough guide for securely erasing your SSD, you’ve come to the right place. There are many reasons why you may want to erase/wipe your solid-state drive (SSD). Doing so will sanitize the drive, ensuring that viruses and malware have no place left to hide. Wiping an SSD also helps recover lost performance on laptops with inefficient garbage collection. Like other types of flash memory, an SSD can only be written to so many times, which presents a problem when wiping it clean. Completely erasing your SSD requires a process called “Secure Erase.” But how do you securely erase an SSD so that your information can’t be recovered without causing harm to the drive?

Will Securely Erasing Your SSD Damage It?

SSDs are designed to be self-sufficient generally rendering a secure erase redundant. The hardware is endowed with a series of algorithms and protective measures, like ‘wear leveling’ and ‘TRIM support’ to maximize drive life and ensure that data is discarded correctly. Which means you should never have to perform routine maintenance on an SSD.

Wear Leveling

This is a first defense that evenly distributes stored data between SSD blocks to ensure even wear. A mechanical hard drive (MHD) stores data in physical locations on a magnetic platter. The operating system (OS) indexes the file location in a file system and accesses the data using a mechanical arm.

An SSD is a type of flash memory. Instead of writing to a location on a physical disc, information is written to a memory block. Like the MHD, it also uses a file system to communicate data storage locations to the host system. Each write process causes the memory to degrade or “wear” a little. Wear leveling re-shuffles the data to ensure even wear across all blocks. Then changes are written to a separate file map.

TRIM

Implementation of the TRIM command occurs in both the OS and an SSD’s firmware; it’s how the SSD manages discarded data. To comply with wear leveling, the SSD is constantly moving data around. Again, this ensures all blocks are worn down at an even rate.

To stay on top of file deletion, SSDs use specific commands known as TRIM. The TRIM command marks the blocks of data the SSD is no longer using, making them ready for wiping internally – Basically, when you delete a file in the operating system, the TRIM command wipes the space, making it available for use the next time the OS wants to write to that space.

So, instead of wiping data from the drive, an SSD “resets” to a clean memory state implying no drive wear.

The Problem with Securely Erasing Your SSD?

Since an SSD is optimized to handle data deletion, some secure file deletion methods won’t work as they should. And can cause a significant amount of wear to the drive memory by performing unnecessary additional writes.

But there is a way to securely erase your SSD without causing it damage. Fortunately, the most common method for securely erasing your SSD is by using manufacturer supplied software, which usually includes a secure erase tool. Or you can use a preferred third-party option with well-maintained programs that cover data deletion.

Method 1: Best Tools for Securely Erasing Your SSD

Here’s a list of tools from the major SSD manufacturers to use for securely erasing your SSD:

1.     Corsair SSD Toolbox

2.     SanDisk SSD Toolbox

3.     Toshiba OCZ Toolbox

4.     Crucial SSD Storage Executive

5.     Western Digital SSD Dashboard

6.     Seagate SeaTools Bootable SSD Utility

7.     Samsung Magician SSD Tool

But before going forward with one of these tools, try this first…

Method 2: Securely Erasing Your SSD with “ATA Secure Erase”

This is a command that instructs the SSD to flush all stored electrons, thereby forcing the drive to “forget” all stored data. The command resets all available blocks to the “erase” state, which is the same state the TRIM command uses for file deletion and block recycling.

Unlike a traditional secure wipe tool, the ATA Secure Erase command doesn’t write anything new to the SSD. Instead, it causes the drive to apply a voltage spike to all available flash memory blocks simultaneously. By resetting every available block at the same time, the SSD is wiped.

However, using the ATA Secure Erase command does use up an SSD’s entire program-erase cycle causing a small amount of wear. But it’s comparatively less wear than using a traditional secure wipe tool, which is why we recommend trying this method first.

If you can’t use the ATA Secure Erase command its best to handle data deletion through up-to-date software from the SSD manufacturer. If this also isn’t an option, there are alternative free and paid management options.

Method 3: Securely Erasing Your SSD Using Third-Party Software

Parted Magic

In rare cases, the SSD model may not support the ATA command. There’s a reason why Parted Magic is one of the most widely referenced programs to help you securely erase your SSD. It’s a certified, inexpensive, and easy to use toolbox for disk partitioning, cloning, erasing, benchmarking, data rescue, and recovery.

It’s a bootable Linux environment, meaning you can install it to a USB drive and boot from there. Parted Magic is a very effective tool with prices starting reasonably around $11. This gives you access to the suite whenever you need it.

GParted

GNOME Partition Editor is a trusted, open-source software with the benefit of working with most operating systems. Getting started can be a bit more challenging than using other software because you’ll need to create a ‘Live CD’ or USB first. But it’s totally free and you’ll find plenty of support topics, user reviews and guides to help you along.

EaseUS Partition Master

EaseUS Partition Manager offers both good basic utilities for securely erasing your SSD and a variety of paid options. Both provide an inventory of your SSD with a variety of commands depending on what you want to do. And their dedicated support center can help you with any questions you may have about the Partition Master utility or any EaseUS programs.

PSID Revert

The Physical Security ID revert effectively cryptographically erases the content of your SSD. Then resets to the erase state. But it only works if you’re having trouble securely erasing your SSD because of a full disk encryption.

PSID Revert will also work to wipe your entire drive if its hardware encrypted but not encrypted using third-party software. You can find out if your SSD supports PSID Revert by Google searching for “[your drive name] PSID Revert.”

Using the BIOS

Check to see if your BIOS has a secure erase feature by referencing the features of your laptop’s motherboard. If it has this feature, you can access it by restarting your laptop and booting into BIOS (usually by striking the DEL key during startup).

Next, find the setting for secure erase once you’re in the BIOS (you may need to look at your motherboard’s manual to find the exact location). Then, just follow the onscreen instructions for securely erasing your data.

Why Formatting Doesn’t Always Work

A method you might have heard for securely erasing your SSD is formatting. But it doesn’t really securely erase your SSD, or any hard drive for that matter. All a quick format does is remove a file system and write over it with a new one. A full format won’t even cut it as it does the same thing, except it also checks for bad blocks – it’s like removing one road map of data and replacing it with another.

In fact, since an SSD has a limited number of read/write cycles, full formatting can be harmful to it. The full formatting process goes through each cell and writes/rewrites each one, that’s why it takes longer than a quick format.

To be clear, in either scenario, the data is technically still there. But as far as the operating system is concerned, the space is available to be written over.

Why can’t you just reformat your SSD? Because what distinguishes a secure erase from just formatting is the completeness of the procedure. Often, formatting is used to prepare a new device for use to ensure that it works properly with your PC like if you just installed a new SSD or want to reinstall your operating system.

Is Securely Erasing Your SSD Something You Should Do Often?

Securely erasing your SSD or performing an elaborate drive cleaning becomes more relevant if you’re selling or recycling your laptop or the SSD. Doing a secure erase ensures that all your information is secure from the prying-eyes of all futures owners of the device.

Another scenario that makes securely erasing your SSD more relevant is if you handle a high volume of large files every year and the capacity of your SSD isn’t that big. But for the typical user, performing a secure erase frequently isn’t necessary.

Conclusion

Only securely erase your SSD if you have to. A secure erase is a simple procedure that clears data from your SSD using relevant software. It’s designed to delete everything from the drive beyond recovery. But you want to take it slow and understand the implication of each step of the process that way you don’t risk damaging the drive or losing critical data. This is especially true if your drive is more than a few years old. Making backups before you get started is crucial. While formatting works quickly to clear up drive space of information that’s not that sensitive. Most SSD manufacturers supply software that includes a secure erase tool for a more thorough and complete job.