In this age of identity theft, it is extremely important you securely wipe your hard drive before disposing of it. One such program you can use to overwrite your hard drive is Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN). Can a free application like DBAN make the grade? Read on to find out.
Editors Note: Article updated on January 18, 2013 to correct a broken link to Techway Services, Inc.
Overview and Features
Darik's Boot and Nuke (or DBAN) is a lightweight and easy to use data destruction application meant for use prior to disposing of a hard drive. Since the maker’s of DBAN do not offer any kind of certification that the data is destroyed, DBAN may not be suitable for highly sensitive data destruction in corporate environments where certification is required. Below is a list of DBAN’s major features:
- Self-contained image that can be run off Floppy, CD, DVD or USB drive
- SATA, IDE, SCSI Hard drive support
- Support for unattended operation using the “autonuke" option
- Supports various methods of data erasure including DoD Short, DoD 5220-22.M, Gutmann wipe and Psudo-Random Number Generation (PRNG)
For a free application, DBAN offers a pretty decent set of features. The wide range of hard drives supported means DBAN can be used at home or at work, although it may not be well suited for wiping large quantities of hard drives.
Installation and Usage
The download package is available from Sourceforge.net - http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=61951. Installing DBAN requires you to download, unzip a file and burn an image file. This is a no-bloat application – no extra software, no bells and whistles.
Once the image is burned to your choice of media, using it is as simple as booting off the newly burned media and waiting for the DBAN image to load.
Once DBAN has loaded you are presented with a useful menu giving you a few options depending on how you want to proceed. The simplest option is to type “autonuke" at the prompt. This will run a quick data wipe on all hard drives DBAN sees which will be sufficient for most consumer needs.
Additional wipe methods are available as well such as the DoD 5220-22.M process which is a seven pass wipe or the Gutmann method which does a 35 pass wipe, although Peter Gutmann, co-author of the algorithm states that 35 passes is overkill.
For a free application, the ease of use and numerous wipe options are a strong selling point.
Performance and System Requirements
The performance of DBAN depends on the wipe method you use, the speed of your computer and the speed of your hard drive. You can expect the “autonuke" wipe (which uses the DoD Short method) to take 3-5 hours and a method using more passes like the Gutmann much longer.
In testing DBAN, I’ve found that laptops can take significantly longer periods to wipe than a similarly equipped desktop. I’ve seen the DoD Short wipe take upwards of 10-12 hours to complete the wipe.
Whichever wipe method you choose, be aware that it’s going to take a good chunk of time to complete the wipe process. Don’t go into this thinking doing a disk wipe is a five minute task…
As for system requirements, DBAN does support older IDE drives, newer SATA and some SCSI drives. I was unable to test a system with SCSI drives, but the three test machines I used (one laptop and two Desktops) worked without any difficulties.
The Bottom Line
As mentioned above, DBAN is offered free of charge and is also open source. DBAN is funded in part by GEEP International – a North American consumer electronics recycling company. The maker of DBAN also offers enterprise-level data destruction services, but for most personal and small to medium sized businesses, the free version of DBAN works well.
Although DBAN isn't the prettiest application, the fact it's lightweight and doesn't offer any bells and whistles makes the application easy to use and all that much more attractive.
There are other disk wiping applications out there, but most of them are not free or do not offer the feature set of DBAN. For these reasons, I'm giving DBAN a 4 out of 5. Highly recommended!